The Celtics host the Atlanta Hawks for the first meeting between these two teams this season. The Celtics and the Hawks will get very familiar with each other as they will face each other once again in Boston on Friday. Then, they have a third meeting on the first half schedule in Atlanta on February 24.
The Celtics are 4th in the East, 3.5 games behind the first place 76ers. They are 7-4 at home and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are looking for their second straight win. The Hawks are 11th in the East, 6.5 games behind Philadelphia and just 1 game out of 8th place. They are 5-7 on the road and 2-8 in their last 10 games. They have lost their last 4 games.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. They beat the Denver 112-99 at home on Tuesday. The Hawks played last on Monday night when they lost to the NY Knicks 123-112 at Madison Square Garden. The Celtics are 3-2 on the second night of back to back games with one back to back cancelled due to Covid.
Brad Stevens has said that Kemba will sit on the second night of back to back games and so the Celtics will be without Kemba for this game. I’m guessing that Payton Pritchard will start in this game as he did the last time Kemba sat out. Daniel Theis sat out Wednesday’s game and is out for this game as well. Tristan Thompson will likely start in his place once again.
For the Hawks, Bogdan Bogdanovic (knee), Kris Dunn (ankle), and De’Andre Hunter (knee) are all listed as out. Former Celtic Rajon Rondo has missed the last 4 games for the Hawks with back soreness and will miss this game also. Tony Snell, who has been out with an Achilles injury is listed as available.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Payton Pritchard
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Semi Ojeleye
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Tristan Thompson
Robert Williams III
Marcus Smart (calf) out
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Daniel Theis (finger) out
Kemba Walker (rest) out
Probable Hawks Starters
PG: Clint Capela
SG: Kevin Huerter
SF: Cam Reddish
PF: John Collins
C: Clint Capela
Bogdan Bogdanovic (ankle) out
Kris Dunn (ankle) out
De’Andre Hunter (knee) out
Rajon Rondo (back) out
Payton Pritchard vs Trae Young
With Kemba likely sitting out on the back to back, I’m guessing that Payton Pritchard will have the chance to match up with Trae Young and he will have his hands full. Young is averaging 26.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 9.4 assists. He is shooting 42% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. Slowing him down will go a long way toward slowing the Hawks down.
Jayson Tatum vs John Collins
John Collins has been playing very well. He is averaging 18.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 blocks. He is shooting 54% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum has admitted that he is still struggling with conditioning due to his bout with Covid and hopefully he gets his wind back because staying with Collins all game will not be easy.
Tristan Thompson vs Clint Capela
Capela is averaging 13.8 points, 13.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 2.2 blocks per game. He is a threat to score around the basket and is a very good rebounder. He is shooting 57% from the field but is not a threat to shoot 3’s. Whether it is Thompson or Daniel Theis who starts at center for the Celtics, they need to try to keep Capela away from the basket.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to getting a win. The Hawks are averaging 112.8 points per game while the Celtics are averaging 110.1 points per game. We have seen many times, teams that are struggling to score suddenly can’t miss against the Celtics and so, the Celtics have to make defense a priority and not let up on the effort necessary to get stops. The Celtics have to especially defend the paint since the Hawks are 5th in the league with 14.3 second chance points.
Rebound - Rebounding gives the Celtics extra possessions and it also deprives the Hawks of the same. The Celtics are averaging 44.1 rebounds per game while the Hawks are averaging 46.3rebounds per game, 5th in the league. Rebounding takes effort and energy and the Celtics need to put out extra effort and energy to win the battle of the boards and when they do, it usually leads to a win.
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. Every player that takes the court has to play hard and be aggressive on both ends of the court.
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 keep the ball moving and not revert to hero ball, which they have had the tendency to do recently. They have to play team ball.
Back to Back - The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. Both games are at home so there was no travel involved. Jaylen Brown played 37 minutes while Jayson Tatum played almost 33 minutes in Tuesday’s game. Kemba played 31 minutes but will likely rest for this game. Will the Celtics have enough energy to finish this game strong and get their second win in a row?
Injuries and Next Man Up - Both teams have several players out with injuries. Which team will have players step up to fill in the gaps left by the players who are injured? Will the questionable players play? That could make a difference for both teams. Will the role players take their game to another level?
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. They also can’t spend the game looking for fouls and complaining when they don’t get the calls.