Once again, the Boston Celtics have a chance to climb over .500 on the season. To get there, the Celtics have to win on the road against a similarly disappointing Atlanta Hawks team.
Atlanta comes into this game at 6-9, but have won their last two games. Boston is 5-2 after a 2-5 start. While it’s not a “must-win” for either team, both the Celtics and Hawks could use another victory, as they turn their seasons around. Here’s what we’re watching for on Wednesday night:
1. How does Boston slow down the Hawks offense? Atlanta’s offense has been very good, despite a somewhat slow start for Trae Young. The Hawks have the league’s fifth-best offense. Despite what their personnel might suggest, Atlanta plays at a relatively slow pace. Their halfcourt execution is generally terrific, however. They create great looks based on Young working in pick-and-roll actions. Young is very good at shooting himself, finding his roll-men or kicking to open shooters as the defense collapses on him.
Without Robert Williams (he’s out due to knee soreness), Boston will have their hands full. Al Horford is going to spend considerable time switching onto Young outside, while also trying to recover to take away Clint Capela at the rim. If Ime Udoka sticks to form, he’ll start Grant Williams. The third-year forward will have to work to keep John Collins at bay. Mostly, Boston has to have their rotations on point, or Atlanta will make them pay with dunks or three-pointers.
2. Can the Celtics offense get going? The Hawks are a bad defensive team. There’s no other way to put it. After becoming semi-respectable in the second half of last season, Atlanta has backslid to the 28th ranked defense in the NBA.
Boston should be able to create plenty of scoring opportunities. With De’Andre Hunter out, the Hawks don’t have their best defender against Jayson Tatum. Tatum will draw a host of wings that he should be able to score on. In addition, the Celtics have had success in the past at picking on Young off switches. If Boston can’t find some offense in this game, it’s probably time to get officially worried. Well... at least a little bit, until Jaylen Brown gets back.
3. Dennis Schroder starts the revenge tour: Over the Celtics next three games, Dennis Schroder will play against his three former teams in the Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Schroder has played well for Boston while starting for Jaylen Brown. It’s a bit of a roller-coaster ride with Schroder, but he was a huge part of winning the second game in Cleveland. In this game, he should be able to go right at Trae Young to create scoring opportunities. The key? Schroder has to be decisive and go with quick-attacking plays. If he’s dribbling for 15-20 seconds of the shot-clock, Boston’s probably not getting anywhere offensively.