The Celtics begin another 3 game road trip in Atlanta to take on the Hawks for the 2nd of 4 regular season games. The Celtics won a close one in Atlanta on November 6 by just 110-107. They will face off two more times in Boston on February 4 and again on April 8.
Both teams are coming off big wins with the Celtics beating the Warriors 92-88 in a defensive battle. The Hawks were at the other end of the spectrum with a 126-80 win over the Sacramento Kings, shooting 63% from the floor and tallying 40 assists. The first game against the Hawks was one of the few this season where the Celtics' defense slipped somewhat, allowing the Hawks to score 107 points.
Luke Babbitt left the Hawks game against the Kings with back spasms and is listed as a game time decision for this game. If he can't play, I expect either Ersan Ilyasova or John Collins to get the start. Isaiah Taylor (eye) and Mike Muscala (ankle) are questionable. DeAndre Bembry (wrist) is probable. and Miles Plumlee (quad) is out.
The Celtics should be healthy other than Gordon Hayward who remains out with the ankle injury. After struggling to adjust to the mask for the facial fracture, Kyrie discarded the mask and played the 4th quarter against the Warriors without it. Kyrie will reportedly once again wear the mask for this game but chances are he will ditch it again if it interferes with his game. The last time we played the Hawks, Al Horford ended up with a concussion courtesy of Kent Bazemore, so Kyrie might want to be cautious.
When the Celtics played the Hawks in the beginning of November, Aron Baynes started at center with Irving, Brown, Tatum, and Horford. However, Marcus Morris was not available for that game as it was back to back and he had just returned from the knee injury. Morris started against the Warriors and so I am guessing that he will probably start this game as well.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Two Way Players
Probable Hawks Starters
Mike Muscala (ankle) questionable
DeAndre Bembry (wrist) probable
Luke Babbitt (back) game time decision
Isaiah Taylor (eye bruise) questionable
Miles Plumlee (quad) out
Two Way Players
Kyrie Irving vs Dennis Schroder
Schroder is playing very well in spite of the Hawks losing record. He is averaging 19.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.2 steals. He put up 23 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals vs the Celtics in their first meeting. Kyrie must stay with him and keep him from having another big game. Kyrie also has to make him work on the defensive end to keep him from being fresh on offense.
Jaylen Brown vs Kent Bazemore
Bazemore is averaging 13.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.9 steals. He struggled in the first meeting between these two teams with just 5 points and 5 turnovers. He did pull down 8 rebounds, though. Brown is coming off his best game of the season on both ends of the court and needs to continue that into this game.
Al Horford vs Dewayne Dedmon
Dedmon is averaging 10.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 0.9 blocks per game. He is shooting 61.1% from the field and 42.1% from beyond the arc. Dedmon came up big for the Hawks in the 11/6 game with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins games. The Celtics remain first in the league with a defensive rating of 95.4 while the Hawks are 22nd with a defensive rating of 106.4. The Celtics have to keep making defense a priority and not let up on the effort necessary to get stops. The Celtics allowed the Hawks to score 107 points in their first meeting and they need to play much better defense in this game. If they can hold the Warriors to 88 points they certainly should be able to keep the Hawks, who average 104.2 points per game, below 100.
Take Care of the Ball - The Hawks are 3rd in the league in steals with 9.3 per game and 8th with 18.8 points off turnovers. The Celtics have to avoid making sloppy passes and they have to be aware when dribbling to avoid turning the ball over as the Hawks will make them pay if they do.
Rebound - Rebounding gives the Celtics extra possessions and it also deprives the Hawks of the same. The Celtics are averaging 47.9 rebounds per game (2nd) while the Hawks are averaging 41.2 rebounds per game (23rd). The Celtics need to continue to put out extra effort to win the battle of the boards.
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. The more aggressive team will usually get the benefit of calls.
Trap Game - This has the makings of a trap game. Atlanta has just 3 wins this season. The Celtics are coming off a huge win over the Warriors and may have a tendency to let down. The Hawks are coming off a big win of their own that may have given them confidence. The Celtics have to be careful not to underestimate the Hawks and they have to come out and play hard and respect the Hawks as a team that came close to beating them they first time they met.
Focus On the Road - The Celtics are on the road and they have to focus on the game at hand and not the hostile crowd or the other distractions that a team faces when on the road. Al Horford will likely face some boos after leaving the team last season for the Celtics. He got a mixture of boos and cheers in the first game. They need to be able to block all that out and focus on playing basketball. Young players especially have to maintain their focus to avoid the pitfalls of road games.
These two teams played each other just 10 days ago and the Hawks came within 3 points of beating the Celtics streak at 8. They are going to want to avenge that loss along with having a bit of confidence that they can do it. The Celtics should be ready to avenge that close win with a bigger win to show that they are the better team.