The series moves to Atlanta for Game 3 of the opening round with the Celtics leading the series 2-0. The Celtics have looked very strong in the first two games at home, but the Hawks will likely play much better at home with their fans behind them. In the regular season, the Hawks were just 17-24 on the road but they were 24-17 at him, showing that they are a much better team at home.
This game is key for the Celtics chances to win the series. Teams that win the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home go on to win the series 94.0% of the time (236-15). Teams that lead a best-of-seven series 2-1 go on to win the series 79.8% of the time (308-78). However, teams that win the first three games of a best-of-seven series go on to win the series 100% of the time (127-0).
This is the thirteenth time that these two teams have met in the playoffs. Boston has won 10 of the 12 series so far. Their last meeting was in 2016 when the Hawks won the series 4-2. That off-season, the Celtics signed Al Horford away from the Hawks in free agency. The only other Hawks playoff win over the Celtics was in 1958 when the St. Louis Hawks won the series in 6 games. Since the Hawks moved from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968, the Celtics have won seven of eight playoff series in this matchup.
Both of these teams have been fortunate to have good health going into the series and after 2 games, still are mostly healthy. The biggest health concern is Jaylen Brown who has been playing with a cut on his shooting hand that has been healing but also giving him some problems. At this time only Danilo Gallinari (knee) is on the injury list for the Celtics while the Hawks have no players listed.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Probable Hawks Starters
2 Way Players
Marcus Smart vs Trae Young
Young averaged 26.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 10.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game in the regular season. He shot 43.0% from the field and 33.5% from beyond the arc. In two games against the Celtics this season, Young averaged 31 points, 4 rebounds, and 11 assists per game. However, in the playoffs so far, he has averaged 20 points, 3 rebounds 7 assists and 2 steals. He shot just 34.4% from the field and 22.5% from beyond the arc in the first 2 games. He has said that he will play better in this game and the Celtics need to be ready for him to play harder and likely shoot better.
Derrick White vs DeJounte Murray
Murray averaged 20.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game in the regular season. He shot 46.4% from the field and 34.4% from beyond the arc. In 2 games against the Celtics this season, he averaged 16.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.0 steals per game. Murray has played well in both games so far. He averaged 26.5 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3.5 steals in the first two games. He shot 42.9% from the field and 36.8% from beyond the arc. The Celtics will need to work hard on both ends of the court to get the better of this matchup.
Malcolm Brogdon vs Bogdan Bogdanovic
In the regular season, Bogdanovic averaged 14 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists off the bench. He shot 44.7% from the field and 40.6% from beyond the arc. In the playoffs so far, he is averaging 13.5 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. He is shot 47.6% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc in the first 2 games. He is a very good 3 point shooter and is a player the Celtics need to defend well as he could heat up quickly if left open. Malcolm Brogdon is the newly crowned 6th Man of the Year and the Celtics will need a good game from him.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games and defense becomes even more important in the playoffs. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 110.6 which is 2nd while the Hawks have a defensive rating of 115.4, which is 22nd. In spite of having the 2nd best defensive rating in the regular season, no Celtics received votes for defensive player of the year. Their defense has been good in the first two games and they must continue to make defense a priority in this game and they have to play that tough defense for 48 minutes and not let up.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and desire. The Hawks averaged 44.4 rebounds per game in the regular season (10th) while the Celtics averaged 45.3 rebounds per game (7th). In the 3 regular season games, Atlanta out-rebounded the Celtics 143-136. The Hawks out-rebounded the Heat 63-39 in the play-in game. The Celtics out rebounded the Hawks 54-45 in Game 1 but the Hawks out-rebounded the Celtics 49-44 in Game 2. The Hawks had 19 offensive rebounds for 13 second chance points in Game 2. The Celtics need to aggressively go after every rebound. They can’t afford to give the Hawks extra possessions by allowing them to grab rebounds.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics averaged just 13.4 turnovers during the regular season (7th). Last year in the playoffs, they turned the ball over 353 times, which was the most of all the playoff teams. They had over 30 more turnovers than Golden State. In Game 1, the Celtics had 17 turnovers, which led to 19 points for the Hawks. In Game 2, they they had 16 turnovers for 14 points. The Celtics have to stay focused and not make careless passes and be careful not to allow the Hawks to get steals due to careless dribbling. They have to take care of the ball and not give Hawks easy points by turning it over.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics can’t afford to come in expecting an easy win after out-playing the Hawks in the first 2 games. That would be a big mistake because the Hawks play hard and will come at the Celtics hard, especially since they are playing at home. 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. The Celtics need to play with energy and aggressiveness for 48 minutes in this game with no let up.
On the Road - The Celtics are playing on the road for the first time in these playoffs. They won their two home games and now they have to stay focused on playing their game and not be distracted by playing on the road and on travel and on the hostile crowd (although the last time the Celtics played in Atlanta, there were almost as many Celtics fans in the crowd as Hawks fans). The Hawks play much better at home and so the Celtics have to work even harder to get a win on the road.
Coaching - The Hawks have a very veteran coach in Quin Snyder, but he has only been coaching the Hawks for 24 games. Snyder was head coach of the Utah Jazz for 8 seasons before resigning there. These are the 7th straight playoffs for Snyder, which is the longest streak by any active head coach. Joe Mazzulla won the first 2 games in Boston, but Game 3 is where coaching becomes even more important. Snyder will watch film and make adjustments and it will be up to Joe Mazzulla to counter those adjustments.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game a little differently with some calling it tight and others letting them play. Some refs just make head scratching calls while others try very hard to get them right. In many games, they call the game tight in the first half and then loosen up on the calls in the second half or vice versa. The Celtics have to adjust to how the game is being called and focus on playing the game and not on the bad calls or no calls.