The Celtics visit the Atlanta Hawks for the first of 4 meetings this season. They will meet again in Atlanta on April 8 and twice in Boston on November 18 and February 2. Atlanta won the series last season 2 games to 1. The Celtics are 5-1 on the road while the Hawks are 0-3 at home. The Celtics have the best record in the NBA while the Hawks have the worst record in the East.
Both teams are playing on the second night of back to back games. The Celtics are coming off a win in Orlando and are looking for their 9th straight win. The Hawks had lost 7 straight before getting a 117-115 win over the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Sunday. Both teams had to travel after their games but the Hawks will have the advantage of being at home. The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 3 game road trip.
The Hawks have been hit hard with injuries. Luke Babbitt is expected to start at power forward in place of regular starter Mike Muscala (ankle). DeAndre Bembry (wrist), Ersan Ilyasova (knee), and Miles Plumlee (quad) are all expected to be out this game. Malcolm Delaney (ankle), Marco Belinelli (Achilles), and Dennis Schroder (ankle) are listed as probable.
For the Celtics, only Gordon Hayward (ankle) is listed as out with an injury. Marcus Morris got the start against the Orlando Magic in just his second game with the team. Morris is expected to sit out this game to rest since it is back to back but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Morris talk his way back onto the court, either. With Morris expected to be out, I've listed the Irving, Brown, Tatum, Horford, Baynes lineup as starters, but that may change.
Celtics Probable Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Marcus Morris (rest) out
Two Way Players
Hawks Probable Starters
Mike Muscala (ankle) out
DeAndre Bembry (wrist) out
Ersan Ilyasova (knee) out
Miles Plumlee (quad) out
Malcolm Delaney (ankle) probable
Marco Belinelli (Achilles) probable
Dennis Schroder (ankle) probable
Two Way Players
Kyrie Irving vs Dennis Schroder
Schroder is playing very well in spite of the Hawks losing record. He is averaging 21.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.3 steals. He put up 28 points and 9 assists vs the Cavs on Sunday, shooting 69% from the field and 67% from beyond the arc. 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.
Jayson Tatum vs Taurean Prince
Prince is averaging 14.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He is also shooting 46.3% from beyond the arc. Tatum will need to stay with him, especially on the perimeter.
Jaylen Brown vs Kent Bazemore
Bazemore is averaging 13.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. In the past he has had a couple of big games against the Celtics. He had 14 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists against the Cavaliers on Sunday.
Keys to the Game
Play as a Team - After the win over the Magic, several of the Celtics mentioned the fact that it was a team win and that their ability to play together without regard for stats is one of the reasons they won. 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.
Take Care of the Ball - The Hawks are 10th in the league in forcing turnovers with 16.3 per game. They are also 5th in steals with 9.1 and 11th with 17.9 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 47.3 rebounds per game while the Hawks are averaging 42.3 rebounds per game. The Celtics need to continue to put out extra effort to win the battle of the boards.
Defense - Defense wins games. The Celtics remain first in the league with a defensive rating of 94.7 while the Hawks are 23rd with a defensive rating of 106.6. The Celtics have to keep making defense a priority and not let up on the effort necessary to get stops and hold their opponents below 100 points.
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 Hawks were the team that were more aggressive against the Cavs and they got the win. The Celtics have to flip that and be the more aggressive team in this one.
Trap Game - This has the makings of a trap game. Atlanta with the worst record in the East and only 2 wins on the season. The Hawks gaining some confidence with a win over the Cavs. The Celtics being a bit too confident with an 8 game win streak. 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 beat the Cavs the night before.
Fatigue - The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 3 game road trip. They are playing on the second night of back to back games but then, so are the Hawks. The Celtics may have an advantage in that because of injuries, the Hawks starters may have to play more and their bench is somewhat depleted. The team with more energy down the stretch will likely get the win.
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. 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.