The Celtics host the Atlanta Hawks for the first of 3 games this season. They will meet in Atlanta on February 3 and again in Boston on February 7. The Celtics swept the series 4-0 last season. They have a 237-143 record overall and they lead the series 126-39 in Boston all time.
This game begins 5 games in 7 days for the Celtics that begins with back to back games vs Atlanta and Chicago and ends with back to back games against the Spurs and Philadelphia. The Celtics are 2-2 on the first night of back to back games and 1-0 when the first game is at home and the second game is on the road. The Celtics face the Bulls on the Road on Saturday.
The Celtics are 2nd in the East while the Hawks are 15th and last in the East. The Celtics are 13-2 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Hawks are 4-15 on the road and 1-9 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 16-5 against Eastern Conference teams while the Hawks are 4-18 against the East. Both teams are looking to win their second straight game.
Jaylen Brown missed the last game against the Hornets with a sinus infection. He was able to go through a full practice on Thursday, in spite of still having a bit of congestion and is expected to play in this one. However, Kemba missed Thursday’s practice with flu like symptoms and is out for this game. I am guessing that Marcus Smart, who is no longer on a minutes restriction, will start in his place.
Tremont Waters has been recalled from the Red Claws and should be active tonight. Carsen Edwards will remain in Maine for this game but is expected to join the Celtics in Chicago for Saturday’s game. Vincent Poirier is still out with the finger injury but was seen at practice shooting with his left hand. Javonte Green didn’t make it through the shoot around and is questionable with an illness.
Robert Williams is still out with the hip injury and is scheduled for another scan this week. For the Hawks, Trae Young missed two games with a sprained ankle but went through practice and is expected to return for this game. Jabari Parker has missed 3 games with a shoulder impingment and is a game time decision for this game. Kevin Huerter has had some back pain but is listed as probable for this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
Vincent Poirier (finger) out
Robert Williams III (hip) out
Carsen Edwards (on assignment with Red Claws) out
Kemba Walker (flu like symptoms) out
Javonte Green (illness) questionable
Two Way Players
Probable Hawks Starters
Trae Young (ankle) probable
Kevin Huerter (back) probable
Jabari Parker (shoulder) game time decision
Two Way Players
Charlie Brown, Jr
Marcus Smart vs Trae Young
Young is averaging 28.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. He is shooting 44% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. With Kemba listed as out with the flu, I expect Marcus Smart to start at the point. One of the keys to this game is to slow down Young, who is just coming back from a sprained ankle that kept him out for 2 games but is very dangerous on the offensive end.
Jayson Tatum vs John Collins
Collins is playing very well for the Hawks, averaging 18.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists. He is shooting 52% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. Tatum will need to stay with Collins on the perimeter and will also need to keep him out of the paint.
Gordon Hayward vs De’Andre Hunter
Hunter is averaging 12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. He is shooting 40% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. Gordon is coming off one of his best games since coming back from the hand and foot injuries and will need to keep up that level of play in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins games and is always a key to getting a win. The Hawks are averaging 107.1 points per game while the Celtics are averaging 111.5 points per game. But we have seen many times, teams that are struggling to score suddenly can’t miss against the Celtics. The Celtics have to keep making defense a priority and not let up on the effort necessary to get stops. The Celtics have to especially guard the paint since the Hawks are 3rd in the East in points in the paint, with 50.9 per game. They are last in 3 point percentage, but that doesn’t mean the Celtics can leave them open on the perimeter. They have to play tough defense inside and out.
Rebound - Rebounding gives the Celtics extra possessions and it also deprives the Hawks of the same. The Celtics are averaging 45.8 rebounds per game while the Hawks are averaging 42.3 rebounds per game. The Celtics are 13-3 when they out rebound their opponents. Rebounding takes effort and energy and the Celtics need to put out extra effort and energy 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 Celtics can’t let up because the Hawks are a lottery team.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics always play best when they run on every possession and when they move the ball and don’t over dribble. When they run, they have a chance to get easy baskets before the Hawks defense gets set. When they move the ball, they find the open man and get the best shots. They have to be careful moving the ball, though as the Hawks are 3rd in forced turnovers and 7th in steals. If the Celtics get sloppy, the Hawks will make them pay.
Don’t Underestimate - 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 has some good young players who are capable of having a good game. Regardless of their record, are capable of beating any team that doesn’t respect them.
Home Game - The Celtics are once again at home, where they have lost just 2 games this season. The home crowd should be loud and energized with strong support for the home team. The Hawks are a young team and young teams often get rattled on the road. The Celtics need to take advantage of that and use the motivation from the crowd to get the win.
Officiating - The style of officiating can affect the outcome of a game. They don’t even have to favor one team over the other. When officials call every little bit of contact, the Celtics seem to struggle. When the refs let them play, the Celtics play much better. The Celtics have to adjust to the way the refs call the game and not allow bad or missed calls to take away their focus. Hopefully the refs call it fairly and let both teams play.