With the series still set in Atlanta for Game#4, the Celtics look to get back on track to take the series back to Boston up 3-1 rather than tied. The Celtics allowed the Hawks to play with more energy and effort in Game 3 and the Celtics failed to rebound and to play defense. They need to play with more energy and effort in this game and they also need to play tough defense for 48 minutes and go for every rebound if they hope to get a win in this game and avoid going back to Boston with the series tied.
Since 1984, when the playoffs moved to a 16 team format, the team that wins the first two games at home have gone on to win the series 93.9% of the time (184-12). When a team leads the series 2-1, they go on to win the series 79.2% (210-55). When a team leads a series 3-1, that team goes on to win the series 95.6% of the time (152-7). Now, with the 76ers sweep of the Nets, it is more important for the Celtics to finish off this series quickly and not let it stretch out to 6 or 7 games.
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.
The Hawks still have no one listed on their injury list. Marcus Smart and Robert Williams both took hard falls in Game 3. Timelord is not on the injury list but Marcus Smart is listed as questionable due to a lower back contusion. His status will be a game time decision. I know that if he can possibly play, he will. If he is unable to play, I would guess that White will move to point guard and Sam Houser will move into the starting lineup. Danilo Gallinari (knee) remains out.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Marcus Smart (back) questionable
Probable Hawks Starters
2 Way Players
Marcus Smart vs Trae Young
In the first two games of the playoffs, Young 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 Game 3, he upped his game and finished with 32 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists and 1 steal. He shot 54.5% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc in Game 3. The Celtics need to be ready for a more confident Young in this game as well. Hopefully Marcus will be good to go in this one as they will need his defensive energy against Young and to lead the team as well.
Derrick White vs DeJounte Murray
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. In the 3rd game, he finished with 25 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal. He shot 53.4% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc. As with Young, Murray is going to come into this game with a lot of confidence and the Celtics need to defend him well to keep him from having another big game.
Celtics Bench vs Hawks Bench
In Friday’s Game 3, the Hawks got 44 points from their bench while the Celtics reserves contributed just 35 points. The Hawks also got 18 rebounds from their reserves to just 9 for the Celtics reserves. Saddiq Bey (15 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 71.4% shooting), Bogdan Bogdanovic (15 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block, shooting 75% from the field) and Jalen Johnson (10 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists and 1 steal, shooting 60% from the field) all came up big for the Hawks off the bench. The Celtics need to defend them better and also get better production from their reserves.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning games and defense becomes even more important in the playoffs. The Celtics’ defense was very good in the first two games but that defensive intensity didn’t make the trip to Atlanta. They allowed Atlanta to score 74 points in the first half, and although they played a little better on the defensive end in the second half, the first half gave the Hawks confidence. They Hawks shot 56% from the field and 44.1% from beyond the arc for the game. Game 3 should be enough proof to the Celtics that they won’t beat the Hawks in a shoot out. They need to make defense a priority and play tough lock down defense on every possession of the game.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is a key to winning. In the 3 regular season games, Atlanta out-rebounded the Celtics 143-136. The Celtics out rebounded the Hawks 54-45 in Game 1 but the Hawks out-rebounded the Celtics 49-44 in Game 2 and they out-rebounded the Celtics 48-29. The Celtics can’t allow the Hawks to get 19 more rebounds than them and expect to win the game. The Hawks had 19 offensive rebounds for 13 second chance points in Game 2 and they had 11 offensive rebounds for 23 second chance points in Game 3. 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.
Be Aggressive - The Hawks play hard and they out-played the Celtics in Game 3. The Hawks were the more aggressive team and they played harder and with more energy. 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. They can’t let the Hawks be the more aggressive team.
Get to the Basket - The Celtics made 21 threes in Game 3 and shot 43.8% from beyond the arc. However, they had just 40 points in the paint to 54 for the Hawks. In the Celtics’ win in Game 1, both teams had 54 points in the paint. In the Celtics’ win in game 2, the Celtics had 64 points in the paint to just 40 for the Hawks. The Celtics need to get to the basket more and not depend on 3 pointers so much. They have been successful in this series when they drive and get to the basket but not so much when they don’t.
On the Road - The Celtics are playing on the road for the second straight game. They allowed the Hawks to play harder than them and lost the first game in Atlanta. They have to stay focused on playing their game and not be distracted by the travel and on the hostile crowd. The Hawks play much better at home and so the Celtics have to work even harder to get a win in their building.
Coaching - The Hawks have a very veteran coach in Quin Snyder, but he has only been coaching the Hawks for 25 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 Snyder won the first game in Atlanta. Snyder made adjustments going into Game 3 and they were obviously successful. Now it’s Mazzulla’s turn to counter those and make adjustments of his own.
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.