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Atlanta Hawks (8-7) at Boston Celtics (12-4) Game #16 11/25/23

Boston looks to get back to winning ways against the Hawks.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics are back in action taking on the Atlanta Hawks today. This is the first of three meetings between the two sides. The last time they squared off in Georgia was Game 6 in the first round of the playoffs where the C’s advanced, beating the hosts 128-120.

Atlanta is coming off the first game of a back-to-back after beating the Washington Wizards last night 136-108.

Boston is looking to get back on track after losing their In-Season Tournament match with the Orlando Magic (113-96). Not only did Boston lose its last game, but they’ve dropped two of their last three games.

Kristaps Porzingis left the game with a calf injury on Friday and had an MRI to determine the severity. According to his Instagram, it’s not as bad as initially feared:

Although it looks like Porzingis avoided a major injury, he will miss today’s game. The Celtics recalled rookie Jordan Walsh from Maine to fill the extra bench spot with KP out.

Walsh is off to a good start with the Maine Celtics. In six games, the rookie is averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists.

With the Latvian out, the C’s can turn to Ol’ Reliable in Al Horford. Horford has been great this season, especially when he’s had to start for Porzingis.

Continuing with injuries, Jrue Holiday sat out against the Magic and is questionable for today with a right ankle sprain he suffered on Wednesday against the Bucks.

For Atlanta, Jalen Johnson left yesterday’s game with a wrist injury and didn’t return. If Johnson can’t go, that is a big miss for Atlanta. The forward is averaging 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds. The Hawks are also without Mouhamed Gueye (back) and Kobe Bufkin (thumb).

Atlanta currently sits eighth in the conference and are having mixed results, although they are currently on a two-game winning streak.

Matchups to watch

Trae Young and Dejounte Murray against Boston’s guards. Ideally, Boston will have their defensive duo of Derrick White and Jrue Holiday.

Young is averaging 26 points and 10.6 assists this season. The former Oklahoma Sooner is in a rich vein of form over the last three games, averaging 35.7 points while shooting 52.3% from the field and 56.3% from deep.

In addition to the red-hot scoring stretch, Young has made five or more threes in each of those three games while dishing out nine assists.

Murray on the other hand is shooting the best he’s had in his career. Entering Saturday, Murray was averaging 21.6 points while shooting 47.5% from the field and a career-best 41% from three.

White and Holiday will have their hands full as Young is a threat from anywhere on the court, while Murray is a creative scorer and can get to his spots. If Holiday doesn’t suit up for the matchup, I expect Jaylen Brown to start on Murray. Brown has his defensive lapses at times, but if he is the primary defender he needs to be up for the challenge.

Keys to the game

Limit Trae Young: With the run he’s on, he’ll be feeling himself tonight, and the C’s must always know where he is on the court. As much as Bogdan Bogdanovic, Murray, and De’Andre Hunter can hurt teams, Trae gets everyone going. Limit him and Boston has a good chance of winning.

Don’t mess around in the fourth quarter: In the last three games, Boston either let teams back in (Charlotte and Milwaukee) or there was a run in the game that took all momentum out and wobbled the C’s (17-0 run against the Magic).

Today, if Boston has a lead midway through the fourth quarter, I’d like to see them close it out and not have a nervy finish like the prior games. It’s great that the Celtics can blow out teams, but it’s important for them to also figure out how to put games away in the fourth quarter before it gets to crunch time.

Rebounding: Maybe because all of my coaches growing up always emphasized the importance of winning the rebound battle, it’s ingrained in me that grabbing more rebounds will give you a better chance of winning. With no KP, everyone will have to be active on the glass especially since Clint Capela (9.9 boards per game) is still one of the better rebounders in the game.

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