Time: 8:00 EST, Thursday December 16th, 2010
Place: TD Garden
Officials: Greg Willard, Mark Ayotte, David Jones
TV: TNT, CSNNE, Radio: WEEI
The Line: The Celtics are 1-0 against the Hawks this season, despite being 0-4 last season.
(UPDATE: RONDO IS OUT TONIGHT)
The last time the Celtics face off against Atlanta they were fresh off a 2 game losing streak against first a Durant-less OKC Thunder, and a poor Toronto Raptors team. The Celtics were shamed and motivated, and rightly so. The Hawks had no idea what hit them from from tip-off onward, and were down 39-13 before the second quarter.
Tonight's game however tells a different story. Since the loss to the Celtics, the Hawks have gone 8-4 in what has been somewhat of a mixed bag of games, despite going for a .667 winning percentage. They had big wins over probable playoff teams New York, Orlando, and Indiana, but also lost games against basement dwellers New Jersey and Detroit. The loss against Detroit was especially poignant because: A) It happened 2 days ago, and is still a fresh motivator for the Hawks, and B) it was lost in deciding fashion, by 23 points.Atlanta should be doubly hungry tonight for that very reason; they've got to avenge the embarassing thumping the Celtics game them 11 games ago, and they've got to avenge the shameful loss suffered at the hands of the Pistons 2 days ago.Atlanta also has not beaten and of the conventional "contending" teams so far this season, losing to San Antonio, Miami, and Dallas as well as Boston. A win against the Celtics tonight would be Atlanta's first 'giant killer' win of the season.
Boston has come a long way since the Hawks game in late November. At the time they were 10-4, and had just suffered two of the worst losses they'll (hopefully) suffer all season. They beat the Hawks in convincing fashion, and have gone undefeated since.
However, there is concern tor um..concern. To say the Celtics 'are a little banged up' is like saying Natural Born Killers is 'a little violent'. The Celtics are also in the second night of a back to back, a scheduling twist which as accounted for 2 of the Celtics 4 losses so far this season. Usually one would say the onus is on the Atlanta Hawks to come out big and bold tonight, but I think that's a misconception here. Atlanta might come out gangbusters, and Boston might get blown out in its own house.
But, after watching a Celtics team, crippled by injuries, force its way back into a game it by all rights should've lost badly last night, I kind of think the Hawks are the ones who are going to need to match the energy levels of the Celtics, and not vice versa.
Probable Starting Lineups
Injuries and Stuff: Shaquille O'Neal (OUT), Jermaine O'Neal (OUT), Delonte West (OUT), Rajon Rondo (QUES), Kendrick Perkins (SEEING MACHU PICCHU)
Injuries and Stuff: Joe Johnson (OUT), Jamal Crawford (OUT)
Matchup of the Night: Rajon Rondo/Nate Robinson V Mike Bibby
I don't know for sure who is playing tonight. Rondo said last night he was playing, but with more injures than Alex J Murphy in the first 10 mins of RoboCop (let's see...we got Rondo's knee is hurt, his ankle is sprained, both his feet have plantar fascists, his buttfour is broken...the list goes on), if Rondo is playing I imagine it is not because anyone else told him it was a good idea.
UPDATE: Rondo is out tonight.
But if Rondo sits against the Hawks it is not the end of the world. Last time around Nate Robinson started for the C's and he went for 16 points and 10 assists, easily his best complete game as a Celtic.
At this point in his career, Mike Bibby cannot guard anyone, so if Boston does not absolutely abuse him while he's in the game, there are problems.
Three Keys For The Good Guys:
1) Kevin Garnett, playing the role of himself: KG has been looking more and more like himself (as in the way he did before he hurt his knee in 2008) than he has in a couple of seasons, and the Celtics are showing it in their record. Shaq's hurt, Jermaine O'Neal's hurt, Kendrick Perkins is marveling at the ancient technologies of the Incas, and Semih Erden is starting, despite a shoulder that needs surgery. Kevin Garnett is going to need to set the pace from tip-off on, and he cannot allow Atlanta to feel like they have a shot of winning. His energy is the one thing that can turn this game as long as he comes out swinging.
2) Come On, Lil Guy!: Glen Davis is not only the first big off the bench tonight, he's probably going to be the only big off the bench. Add to that the fact that Glen Davis isn't that big to begin with, and we've got problems. Davis needs to just play well in all areas. He needs to be hitting his jumpers, so Josh Smith and Al Horford can't ball hawk in the lane. He needs to rebound to help limit Atlanta's second chance points, and he needs to get to the cup often to make sure Al Horford and or Josh Smith have at least 2 fouls before halftime. We need a lot out of Glen Davis.
3) Help Us, Von Wafer...You're our only hope!: Doc Rivers does not care about this win streak. He does not care about this game. This game is not a beautiful or unique snowflake. A win or loss here means the same as it does to any other team, and since we're 20-4, we can afford to drop a game here or there. That's how Doc sees it. That's why he won't play Paul Pierce, KG, or Ray Allen 40 minutes tonight even if it will get us a win. With Delonte out, and now Rondo too, that puts our much maligned mohawk'd malcontent front and center tonight, as probably the primary backup behind both Nate Robinson and Ray Allen. Hopefully, Von Wafer brought his big boy shoes tonight.