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Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks Round 1 Game 1 Preview and Game Thread

The Celtics begin their postseason quest on the road vs the Atlanta Hawks as they look for their first playoff win.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics (0-0) at Atlanta Hawks (0-0)
Saturday, April 16. 2016
7:00 PM ET
Round 1 Game #1 Road Game #1
TV: ESPN, CSNNE, FSSE, SportsnetOne
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, 92.9 FM The Game
Philips Arena

Referees: James Capers, Derrick Collins, Rodney Mott

The Celtics begin their post game play in the same arena that they played their last road game of the season in Atlanta against the Hawks. The Hawks won the season series 3-1 with the Celtics winning the first game of the season at home and then losing the next three games in the series.

The Celtics and Hawks have met 11 times in the playoffs with the Celtics holding a 10-1 advantage over the Hawks. The Celtics have won all 7 of the series since the Hawks moved from St. Louis to Atlanta. Their one loss was in 1958 when Bill Russell was forced to sit out the 6th and final game of the series with an ankle injury. However, this is the first time that the Celtics are facing the Hawks without home court advantage.

Of the current Celtics, only Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley have won a game in Atlanta. They have lost their last 4 games played in Philips Arena. The Hawks are the 7th oldest team in the league with an average age of 28.1 years. Their starting 5 boasts 162 post season games experience. The Celtics, on the other hand, are the 4th youngest team in the league and the youngest in the playoffs with an average age of 24.6 years. The Celtics starters have just 30 games combined playoff experience.

This Celtics team is looking for their first playoff win while the Hawks are coming off a trip to the Finals last season. The Hawks are a veteran and experienced team that knows how to win in the playoffs, however close games have been a problem for them. They have a league worst record in overtime games this season with no wins against 5 losses. They also have lost 12 straight buzzer beating situations since the 2014-15 season.

While the Celtics are reporting no injuries, there are a couple of things to watch. Isaiah Thomas has been dealing with a wrist injury to his shooting hand most of the season and it was aggravated when he fell on it in the Celtics last Bucks game. His production has been off since that game and hopefully he can shake it off and be effective in this series.

Another concern is Jae Crowder's ankle. He missed 8 games with a high ankle sprain and in spite of the average healing time for a high ankle sprain being 6-7 weeks, Jae returned after just over 2 weeks. He has struggled a bit to get his conditioning and athleticism back since returning and hopefully will be close to 100% when he takes the court against the Hawks.

On Atlanta's side, Tiago Splitter has been out most of the season with a hip injury and will remain out for the playoffs. Tim Hardaway, Jr suffered a groin injury in the Hawks loss to the Wizards on the last day of the season. His status is listed as questionable for this game.

Probable Starting Matchups
Point Guard

Isaiah Thomas 22.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.1 steals
Jeff Teague 15.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals

Shooting Guard

Avery Bradley 15.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals
Kyle Korver 9.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals

Small Forward
Jae Crowder 14.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals
Kent Bazemore 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals

Power Forward

Amir Johnson 7.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 blocks
Paul Millsap 17.1 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.7 blocks

Jared Sullinger 10.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.9 steals
Al Horford 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists 1.5 blocks

Key Subs
Evan Turner 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.0 steals
Dennis Schroder 11.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists. 0.9 steals

Celtics Reserves
Evan Turner
RJ Hunter
Jonas Jerebko
Jordan Mickey
Terry Rozier
James Young
Tyler Zeller
Kelly Olynyk
Marcus Smart
John Holland

Head Coach

Brad Stevens

None Reported

Hawks Reserves
Dennis Schroder
Kriis Humphries
Mike Scott
Lamar Patterson
Tim Hardaway Jr
Walter Tavares
Mike Muscala
Thabo Sefalosha
Kurt Hinrich

Head Coach
Mike Budenholzer

Tiago Splitter (hip) out
Tim Hardaway (groin) questionable

Key Matchups
Amir Johnson vs Paul Millsap
Millsap is averaging 17.1 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.8 steals per game. In the month of April he has upped his play and averaged 19 points and 13.4 rebounds. In the Celtics last loss to Atlanta, Millsap had 31 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks. Amir has been playing very well since shaking the plantar fasciitis that was plaguing him earlier in the season. Stopping Millsap will be key to getting a win in this game.

Isaiah Thomas vs Jeff Teague
Teague is averaging 15.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. Like Millsap, Teague has upped his game in April, averaging 23.2 points in the final month of the season. Teague is capable of having a big game on both ends and hopefully Isaiah is able to handle him. Avery will have his hands full guarding Kyle Korver, who is capable of putting up big numbers if left open. The Celtics need Isaiah to be healthy and to have a big game.

Honorable Mention
Jared Sullinger vs Al Horford
Horford is averaging 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. In their 3rd game against the Celtics, Horford had a big game with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. In their last meeting he had 12 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 block. Sully will need to play him tough on both ends. It will be key for the Celtics to limit the production of both Millsap and Horford.

Brad Stevens vs Mike Budenholzer
Brad Stevens has quickly become one of the better coaches in the league. He has gotten accolades from all sides. Mike Budenholzer is the reigning Coach of the Year and has a big experience advantage. Brad Stevens has been coaching just 3 years in the NBA while Budenholzer has the advantage of 20 years in the league behind him. The x's and o's and adjustments will be interesting to watch.

Keys to the Game
Play as a Team - The Celtics play best when they play as a team on both ends of the court. They have to move the ball and find the open man who then has to hit his shots. They need to work as a team on defense and get stops and turn them into fast breaks. Their playoff theme is "We are one superstar." They need to remember that and play great team ball.

Take Care of the Ball - The Hawks are 3rd in the league in steals with 9.1 per game. The Celtics are second with 9.2 steals per game. The Hawks are 4th in the league with 18.6 points off turnovers while the Celtics are 3rd with 18.8 points off turnovers. The Celtics have to make good passes and not allow the Hawks to get extra points off steals and turnovers. If the Celtics get careless, the Hawks will make them pay. In their loss to the Hawks in Boston, the Celtics turned the ball over 22 times and in their final loss to the Hawks they turned the ball over 15 times. They need to take care of the ball.

Rebound - The Celtics have to make an extra effort to crash the glass and not give the Hawks extra possessions. Horford and Milsap are tough on the boards and the Celtics need to box out and aggressively go after the rebounds as a team to avoid giving them second chance and fast break points. This may be the biggest difference in these two teams. The Celtics are 6th in total rebounds (44.9) while the Hawks are 24th (42.1). The Celtics are 4th in offensive rebounds (11.6) while the Hawks are last (8.3).

- Defense wins games. The Hawks have players who can put points up in a hurry and the Celtics have to concentrate on defense to keep them from having big games. Both of these teams pride themselves on playing tough defense. The Hawks are 2nd in the league with a defensive rating of 98.8 while the Celtics are 4th with a defensive rating of 100.9. The Celtics have to keep their focus on playing tough defense and not let it slip like it has at times in the regular season.

Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to play hard for all 48 minutes. The Celtics came out sluggish on defense against the Heat and let them get out to a 26 point lead. They turned it around and played tough defense to get back into the game. The Celtics can't afford to play sluggish against the Hawks for any period of time. The Celtics need to start strong and play hard until the final buzzer.

Be Aggressive
- The Celtics must be the team that plays harder and that wants this win more. They have to be aggressive in diving for loose balls, in going to the basket, in getting stops on the defensive end, and in going after rebounds. They have to play harder and be more aggressive from start to finish. Their best hope to beat the Hawks is to play harder from start to finish.

Be Offensive - The Celtics need Isaiah Thomas to be at his best and hopefully the wrist on his shooting hand won't hinder his shooting. Along with Isaiah's points, the Celtics need one or two other players to step up and score the ball. It would help if Marcus Smart can continue the shooting he showed in the Heat game. Also, Kelly Olynyk needs to get back to the shooting that we saw before the shoulder injury. Jared and Amir both need to score inside and Evan Turner has to step up as well. The Celtics can't afford one of their scoring droughts against the Hawks.

- Will the Celtics come out focused and play like they did in the second half of their final game vs the Heat or will they come out unfocused and play like they did in the first half against the Heat? The Celtics seem to play like two totally different teams depending on their level of focus on defense and on playing team ball.

Home Court - The Celtics fought for home court in their last game against the Heat and thought they had it when they beat the Heat until they learned that Atlanta's loss to the lottery bound Wizards ripped it from their grasp. Neither team was particularly strong on the road with the Celtics having a road record of 20-21 and the Hawks having a road record of 21-20. The Hawks lost one more home game than the Celtics during the regular season. Can the Celtics steal one in Atlanta?

Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. The Celtics play best when the officials let them play and don't call a lot of ticky tack fouls for incidental contact. Referees with an agenda are always a possibility as well. But the Celtics can't let the officials take them out of their game with bad or ticky tack calls. They have to play their game regardless of the way the game is called.

Official Report
James Capers

Lead Referee
Home Win Percentage: 62.7%
Total fouls called per game: 42
% of fouls called on road team: 51.5%
The son of former NBA official James Capers Sr., James Capers has officiated 1,172 regular season games, 78 Playoff games and five NBA Finals games during his 20-season NBA career. In addition to his NBA experience, Capers has six years of CBA officiating experience, including three CBA Finals and two CBA All-Star Games. I've seen several posts from Lakers fans who swear he hates the Lakers. At least he has that in his favor. In 2012, Capers called game 2 of the ECF and the officiating was terrible in that game. The Heat shot 47 free throws to 29 for the Celtics. Pierce, Dooling and Pietrus all fouled out. There were bad calls and missed calls throughout the game. Lebron James took 24 free throws himself, only 4 less than the entire Celtics team.

He was lead official in the Nets game that resulted in a brawl two seasons before last. Capers gave Doc a T for yelling to Rondo. They let the Nets get away with pushing and shoving and hard fouls the entire first half. The Nets shot 17 free throws to 5 for the Celtics in the first half and 3 of those free throws were on technicals. They did better in the second half after the brawl, but the refs' failure to call the game evenly in the first half led to the fight.

Last season, he called the Golden State game and made a terrible call to end the first half on a last second heave. Even the Warriors fans thought it was a terrible call. The calls all went the Warriors way down the stretch and Warriors fans couldn't believe how they were getting the benefit of all the questionable calls. He called the game at Brooklyn this season and he made several terrible calls. One of the worst was an offensive foul call on Jae Crowder that should have been a 4 point play. This was with 1:29 to go when the Celtics were making a come back.

He called a win over Miami this season and for the most part let both teams play. But, made a few bad calls against the Celtics down the stretch. With just over 2 minute left, they called a foul on Amir Johnson when Amir and Bosh were both scrambling for a loose ball. Amir was on the floor with the ball and Bosh landed on top of him. It gave Miami possession in a close game.

Derrick Collins
Home Win Percentage: 57.1%
Total fouls called per game: 41.2
% of fouls called on road team: 50.5%
Derrick Collins has officiated 871 regular season games and 16 Playoff games in 14 NBA seasons. Prior to joining the NBA, he officiated five seasons in the CBA where he worked two Finals, and three seasons in the WNBA, working three WNBA Playoffs and Finals. He has seven years of collegiate officiating experience in various conferences (Big 12, Sun Belt, Conference USA, Southland, SEC, TAAC, OVC and SWAC), and he officiated a Southland Conference semifinal game. Collins also officiated at the high school level in Louisiana.

There is very little controversy around Collins. In the Wolves game last season, most of the calls went their way and the Wolves shot 32 free throws to just 9 for the Celtics but Collins has been decent for the most part. In the Spurs game this season, the refs favored the Spurs a bit in the first half but were fairly even in the second half. They pretty much let both teams play for most of the game. Free throws were even at 22 for the game.

Rodney Mott
Home Win Percentage: 70.6%
Total fouls called per game: 39
% of fouls called on road team: 53.2%
Rodney Mott has officiated 978 regular season games and 14 playoff games during his 17-season NBA career Prior to joining the NBA officiating staff, Mott spent four years officiating in the CBA, eight years officiating in the Los Angeles Pro Am basketball league, three years officiating at the junior college level, and four years officiating high school in San Diego. In 2007, Mott was suspended without pay for 3 games for making an obscene gesture and inappropriate comment toward a fan. Mott challenged the charges and said that they used him as a scapegoat to take attention away from other issues, but the suspension stood.

The Celtics have had mixed results with Mott as an official. Like many refs, he can be good or bad depending on the night. It was Rodney Mott that Rondo was joking with and accidentally bumped in a game vs the Hawks. Even though Mott didn't show any reaction at the time and backed up Rondo's story that he was indeed joking with him at the time, Rondo was suspended for the incident. Mott hasn't been particularly good or bad in recent games with the Celtics other than the recent loss to the Knicks where they called several ticky tack fouls on the Celtics letting free throws decide the game down the stretch.

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