clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Celtics vs. Hawks, Game 6: three things to watch

The Boston Celtics face the Atlanta Hawks with another chance to close them out.

Atlanta Hawks (119) Vs. Boston Celtics (117) At TD Garden Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

We shouldn’t be here. The series was supposed to be over by now. We should know by now; this Boston Celtics team doesn’t do anything the easy way, no matter how irksome it can be.

So, on a random Thursday night at the tail end of April, millions of Celtics fans will be on the edge of their seats, hoping their team can close out their first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks and avoid the pressure cooker of a Game 7.

At this point, both teams know each other in and out. They’ve seen each other’s playbook, read each other's defensive coverages. Now, it comes down to who can imprint their will onto the game — who wants it more? Who is willing to let their talent shine above all else?

Of course, that doesn’t mean adjustments can’t be made, especially in areas where the other team is taking advantage or finding success. Here are three things to watch in Thursday’s Game 6.

Figuring out the Al Horford/Trae Young Conundrum

2023 NBA Playoffs - Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Over the last two games, Trae Young has exposed some of Al Horford’s (age-induced) defensive weaknesses. If Horford is guarding at the level of the screen or up-to-touch, run some actions to get him switched onto Young. If he’s in drop, set some back screens (rip screens) and get Young attacking the space behind the perimeter defense with his floater game.

No matter how the Celtics have adjusted, Young has been finding his scoring pockets. However, there are options. Late in Game 4, as Young hunted Horford for the umpteenth time, Jaylen Brown executed a peel switch, picking up the All-Star guard around the mid-post and taking away any advantage his team had created for him.

Peel switching has become a common occurrence in the NBA this season, yet it’s not something the Celtics have incorporated as part of their core defensive strategy. Nevertheless, in a series where Young is controlling the space he’s afforded, it could be the adjustment that puts the shackles on him and allows Boston to get out in transition more frequently.

Regardless of whether Joe Mazzulla opts to add peel-switching to the team’s schematics or not, the Celtics need to figure out the Young/Horford conundrum if they want to create some legitimate separation on the scoreboard.

Does Grant Williams get some run?

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Three Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

To begin the series, I understood the reasoning for running with Sam Hauser, as his movement shooting and uncanny ability to take teams out of their offense both boded well for attacking the Hawks on either side of the court. Yet, for the most part, Hauser has been used as a stationary floor spacer, and the Hawks are hunting Horford more than they’re hunting Hauser.

So, perhaps it’s time for Grant Williams to retake his place within the Celtics rotation. After all, he’s their best spot-up shooter from the corner, offers more in the way of screening and hand-off creation, and is versatile enough on defense to hang with John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Clint Capela, and Jalen Johnson. Most of all, Williams brings grit and energy to the rotation, along with the experience of being part of a rotation that went to the NBA Finals.

Considering Mazulla has been brave enough to try Blake Griffin and Mike Muscala for stretches, there should be no excuse for not injecting Williams back into the rotation for Thursday’s contest - not a single one.

A Bounce Back Jayson Tatum Performance

2023 NBA Playoffs - Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

In Game 5, Jayson Tatum’s struggles from the field were as prominent as the Celtics' late game collapse. Yet, despite his poor shooting night, Tatum found a way to influence proceedings as a facilitator for his teammate. However, in games where you’re one win away from progressing, deferring on possession after possession is simply playing into your opponent's hands, especially when you’re the team’s star player.

We all know that shooting variance is a real thing — we’ve seen it blight the Celtics throughout the regular season. But Tatum, with his size, strength, and length, should have no problem battling on the block, or ripping to the rim, to get some easy buckets and build a rhythm — especially as the defense begins to adjust to him playing the passing game.

If the Celtics want to progress after this game, Tatum’s offensive output will likely play a significant role, so a bounce-back game should be on everybody's bingo card, even if it means we’re all splitting the winnings.

Final Thoughts

Every day that passes without the Celtics preparing for a second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers is another day Joel Embiid gets closer to being game ready, not 100%, but game ready nonetheless. After throwing away Game 5, the Celtics will need to stay locked in for the full 48 and finish this series off in front of the Hawks home crowd.

We’ve spent all season talking about, and hearing about, how this team are championship contender and arguably the best team in the NBA. Now, it’s time for them to prove all that talk was right. I want no part of a Game 7 at all.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Celtics Blog Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog