Time: 7:00 PM EST, Monday November 22nd, 2010
Officials: Bill Spooner, Rodney Mott, Scott Wall
TV: CSNNE, SNET1, SPSO Radio: WEEI
The Line: Celtics are 4-3 on the road so far, while Atlanta is 3-4 at home.
Celtics were 0-4 against Atlanta last season, marking the third straight season
that one of the two teams went undefeated against the other. In 07-08, Boston went
3-0, in 08-09 Boston went 4-0, in 09-10 Atlanta went 4-0. Atlanta is 2-5 in the past 7,
UPDATE: Per Sean Grande, Rondo is out tonight. This is after he reportedly tested the injury during pregame warmups.
Shhh, shhh....its going to be okay. Yes, Boston lost a seemingly unlosable (not a real word) game to Oklahoma City at home while the Thunder were without both Jeff Green and Kevin Durant. Sure, they followed up that egg with a 1 point loss to the Toronto Raptors, after they led by 3 with 21 seconds left. There's no sugar coating those games. The NBA is a long season, and along the way even the best teams lay stinking piles of rancid garbage and call them "Games". Yes, it seems a little early for an alleged contender to drop two games that seemed as guaranteed as letting Ray Allen take the ball up the floor while you're up by 3 with 20 seconds left (too soon?), but these things do happen. The Celtics have been beat up, and haven't had one single game with it's full cadre of rotation players all healthy, and like any older team, there are going to be nights when the enthusiasm isn't there.
Tonight however will not be one of those nights. The Hawks are on the list of 'kinda rivals even though its obvious that they take it more seriously than the Celtics do', along with the Bulls. The two teams are remarkably similar; both the Bulls and Hawks have taken the Celtics to a 7 game playoff series in the first round of the playoffs, both teams are young, athletic squads with emotional former University of Florida alumnus leaders, and neither team has won anything in the past 5 years.
The Hawks began the season on a 6-0 tear that had (some very impulsive) people talking like "this might be the year they finally get it", but over the last 7 games, the Hawks have managed to go 2-5, and have yet to beat a .500 team all season. The Hawks should be eying the Celtics as easy prey; the old green 'n whites are 1-2 so far this season in back to back games, and 0-2 in back to back games during an away trip. On top of that, Rajon Rondo is questionable tonight to go with the already serious business of Jermaine O'Neal's injury.
But, expect the Celtics to be more cornered than paper tiger tonight. Both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have expressed frustration with the focus of the guys during the last 2 games, and while it would be foolish to expect intense focus from the boys every single night, it is pretty evident that the Celtics are pretty angry about the last two games:
"I know we're a better team than those two teams, I know we are," said Paul Pierce, who's last-second attempt clanked off the rim as the buzzer sounded. "It's just mentally coming out and having the right mindset. I don't think we have the right mindset coming into these games against opponents that we're supposed to beat."
"We can't just show up. We've got to play some 'D,'" Kevin Garnett said after the game. "These teams we're playing against are very high-caliber offense teams. We know what they are. On paper they might not be whatever but as far as talent, this league has a lot of talent and you've got to respect that."
The Celtics have a reputation to maintain, and the Hawks are the perfect scape goats for a statement game. They're good, but not so good that the game is guaranteed to be close. While this might be a nail-biter, the Celtics are fully capable of blowing these guys out of the water from the opening tip off, and look for Boston to give it the best shot they can.
This game should be pretty chippy from the second quarter on (look for the first hard foul from Shaq on either Al Horford or Josh Smith to be the official point when the announcers say "these teams have a history, it looks like things might get a bit chippy"), and no matter what it ought to be entertaining.
Probable Starting Lineups:
Injuries And Stuff: Jermaine O'Neal (OUT), Rajon Rondo (QUESTIONABLE), Kendrick Perkins (SPELUNKING)
Injuries And Stuff: Papa Sy (OUT)
Match-Up Of The Night: Kevin Garnett V Josh Smith
Josh Smith is a disruptive force. No matter what, he'll roam around the inside 15 feet looking for the weakside block, but with KG as a spot up shooter and pick and pop partner, Smith will have to think twice. That is, he'll have to think twice as long as KG is taking and hitting his shots. If KG can establish himself early in the game, Josh Smith can't instill fear of the poster block into the fragile little minds of Nate Robinson, Rondo (if he even plays), Pierce, and Allen. If KG flounders, tries too hard to be a passing initiator, or is just plain cold, Josh Smith becomes one of the best help defenders in the league. An impressive stat: In the 8 games that the Hawks won, Josh Smith is averaging over 4 blocks per contest. In the 5 games the Hawks lost, Josh Smith is averaging 1.2 blocks per game. It doesn't take a degree in rocket appliances to know that when Josh Smith is allowed to roam, the Hawks generally win, so Kevin Garnett needs to make Josh Smith play him straight up.
Three Keys To The Game For The Good Guys:
1) Those Are The Breaks: The Hawks have above average finishers littered about the roster, but in Joe Johnson and Josh Smith they have elite transition players. On top of that the Hawks also have Al Horford, who is one of the better big men in the NBA at creating fast breaks from defensive rebounds. The Celtics are already a step behind most front courts athletically when Shaq is on the floor, and Atlanta will just try to exploit the situation by running three star athletes like Josh Smith up and down the court as fast as they can possibly get.
2) Don't Allow Second Chance Points: Josh Smith and Al Horford both average over 2 offensive rebounds per game, and combined average 20 boards a game. It would take KG, Shaq and Paul together to match that. The Hawks will be all over the boards tonight, and if the Celtics want to get out of Atlanta with a win, they need to stop with the second chance points from the Hawks. The C's generally concede the Offensive Rebounds category (with the exception of Glen Davis) because the bigs are generally focused on getting back on defense, but the Celtics have got to take care of the ball when the Hawks miss.
3) The Bench Mob Needs To Live Up To Its Awesome Nickname!:The Celtics had a 9 man rotation against the Raptors. Now, I'm no +/- proponent (an explanation of the plus/minus stat if you don't know it), but it can be useful. For instance, against the Raptors, the five starters were a combined +63. The 4 bench players were a combined -68. Against the Thunder on Friday, the starters we pretty bad, but the second unit was still terrible, totaling a combined -7 amongst 6 players and 77 total minutes. The bench is going to be far more important here, as Semih Erden and Glen Davis should both likely see extensive time at the center position due to their improved mobility in comparison to Shaq. We need a very strong performance out of the bench tonight.