Celtics need to find a spark in big game against Hawks


Boston Celtics (23-21) at Atlanta Hawks (26-19)
Monday, March 19
7:30 PM ET
Game #45,  Road Game #21
TV:   CSNNE, SNET1, SPSO, NBA-LP 754/755
Radio:  WEEI,  WCNN
Philips Arena 
Referees:  Bill Spooner, Kane Fitzgerald, Derek Richardson
The Celtics continue their road trip with the first of 3 games against the Atlanta Hawks.  With the Hawks sitting in 6th place in the East, 2.5 games ahead of the Celtics, this game takes on increased importance for the Celtics.  A win moves them to within 1.5 games of the 6th spot, while a lost drops them to 3.5 games back.  The Celtics are also 1.5 games behind Philly for the Atlantic division lead and the 4th spot in the standings.   With the Sixers playing in Charlotte, they are almost certain to get a win and the Celtics need this win to keep pace. 

In spite of playing in the 6th game of an 8 game road trip, the Celtics had Sunday off while the Hawks played in Cleveland on Sunday.  The Hawks have won their last two while the Celtics have lost their last two.  Let's hope both streaks end with this game.   The Hawks are a good home team with a 13-6 record at Phillips Arena.  The Celtics, on the other hand have struggled on the road, winning just 7 and losing 13.    Both teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games. 

The Hawks have been saddled with injury problems of late, but have been winning in spite of it.  Their bench is thin due to injuries to 2 of their regular starters (Horford, Williams) and 3 key reserves (Green, Pargo, Radmanovic).   Williams, Green and Radmanovic are all listed as questionable and could possibly return but starting center Al Horford, and reserve Jannero Pargo are both out.   The Celtics are missing O'Neal and Wilcox, which  leaves them very thin up front.  Greg Stiemsma also missed shoot around due to a foot injury but he is expected to play.  

This is a big game with playoff seeding implications.  The Celtics must come out focused and not dig a hole that they have to spend the rest of the game digging out of.  Hopefully they will show more effort and desire than they did in their last 2 games and play Celtic basketball. 

Probable Starters
  PG: Rajon Rondo 13.4 PPG, 10.3 APG,  1.6 SPG

SG: Ray Allen 14.7 PPG, 2.5 APG, .459 3P%

  SF:   Paul Pierce   18.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.1 APG

  PF:  Brandon Bass   11.9 PPG,  5.8 RPG, 0.9 BPG

C:   Kevin Garnett    15.2 PPG,  8.2 RPG,  1.1 BPG

Boston Bench Mob
Greg Stiemsma
Mickael Pietrus
Avery Bradley
JaJuan Johnson
E'Twaun Moore
Keyon Dooling
Sasha Pavlovic
Marquis Daniels

Chris Wilcox  (heart)  out
Jermaine O'Neal (wrist)  out
Greg Stiemsma (foot) probable

Probable Starters
  PG Jeff Teague 12.2 PPG  4.9 APG   1.8 SPG

  SG Kirk Hinrich 6.0 PPG  2.6 APG  .3.3 3P% 

  SF  Joe Johnson  18.6 PPG  3.4 RPG 3.8 APG

  PF Josh Smith  17.9 PPG  9.5 RPG  2.0 BPG 

C Zaza Pachulia  7.3 PPG 7.3 RPG  0.5 BPG

Tracy McGrady
Ivan Johnson
Jason Collins
Jerry Stackhouse
Erick Dampier

Willie Green (back) questionable
Vladimir Radmanovic (back) questionable
Al Horford (Pectoral)  out
Marvin Williams (hip)  questionable
Jannero Pargo   (appendix)  out

Key Matchups
Brandon Bass vs Josh Smith
Smith is a very athletic and quick power forward and will be a tough matchup for Bass.   Brandon must box out and keep Smith off the boards along with slowing him down on offense.  Over the two recent losses,  when the Celtics have been out rebounded by a large margin,  Bass has grabbed just 3 rebounds total.  That is unacceptable for the starting power forward and he simply must do a better job on the boards. 

Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson  is athletic and quick and can score in bunches.  Pierce is stronger though and should be able to keep Johnson in check on the defensive end.  Johnson played 35 minutes last night, putting up a line of 28 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal.  The Captain will need to work on defense to limit Atlanta's team leader from putting up another big stat line. 
Honorable Mention
Ray Allen vs Kirk Hinrich
Your first thought might be "Kirk Hinrich... so he's still around, huh?   We haven't heard much from him since his altercation with Rondo in the playoffs a few years back.   With the injury to Marvin Williams, Hinrich has been moved into the starting lineup.   Ray should be able to beat Hinrich through screens to get open. Also Hinrich isn't as much of an offensive threat as he was at one time and so Ray should be able to defend him well.    I expect a big game from Ray. 

Keys to the Game
Defense - This is the key to every game and to winning a championship this year.  The Hawks are a good 3 point shooting team as well as having the ability to get to the basket and so the Celtics must defend both the perimeter and the paint.  In their last two losses, the Celtics have allowed way too many easy baskets.  They have to get back to consistently playing the swarming team defense that we have seen in spurts this season.

Rebound -  The Celtics have been giving up too many rebounds.  With Pachulia and Smith inside, if the Celtics don't box out and get the defensive boards, the Hawks will get second chance baskets.  If the Celtics don't grab the offensive boards, the Hawks will get out on the break for easy baskets.    The Hawks aren't a great rebounding team (25th, 41.1 rpg) but they are better than the Celtics (30th, 38.1 rpg).  The Celtics have been out rebounded by large margins in recent games and they must put out a better effort on the boards. 

Run the Offense -  In the last two losses, there was way too much dribbling and standing around.  They have gotten away from moving the ball and the passing that makes them so tough to guard.  They have to run the offense and move the ball and find the open man.  They must get away from walking the ball up the floor and then one player dribbling while looking for an opening and then settling for a tough shot. 

Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team.  They have to be aggressive in going to the basket.  Driving into the paint will give them a basket or free throws or the opportunity to kick it out to an open teammate.  They can't just settle for jumpers.  They also must be aggressive in going after loose balls and rebounds.  It has been so frustrating to watch Celtics stand there and watch an opponent dive for a loose ball or run past them for a rebound.  They can't let the Hawks out hustle them. 

Odd Fact

The team's named was shortened from Blackhawks to Hawks upon moving to Milwaukee from the Tri-Cities region where the Blackhawk war took place in 1831.

Official Report
Bill Spooner
Over the past 22 seasons, veteran official Bill Spooner has worked 1,234 regular season games, and 79 NBA playoff games. He officiated his first two Finals games during the 2010-11 season. In addition to his NBA experience, Spooner has seven years of collegiate officiating experience. He also has eight years of high school officiating experience in his home state of California. Spooner is the ref who failed to call Kobe's elbow to the throat of Ron Artest a couple years back, even though he was the ref in position to call it. Artest's complaints resulted in his ejection but nothing was called on Kobe in the game. The league later admitted their error and assessed Kobe a flagrant 1 for the elbow. But that didn't help Houston who had to play without Artest the rest of the game. The Celtics are 2-1 this season and 6-4 in their last 10 games with Spooner while the Hawks are 1-0 this season and 4-6 in their last 10. The loss was in Dallas where the Celtics took 32 free throws to 25 for the Mavs and the officiating was pretty bad both ways. In the 2 losses, the Celtics shot 51 free throws to 39 for their opponents. Spooner is somewhat of a homer ref with a home W/L record this season of 17-12.

Kane Fitzgerald
This is Fitzgerald's 3rd season in the NBA as a referee. Fitzgerald has officiated 123 games in his two seasons as an NBA official. Fitzgerald started refereeing at the age of 18 at the high school level in New Jersey. He also refereed NCAA Division I basketball for two years. He has professional experience in the D-League for four years and the WNBA for two years. You may remember him from last season when he gave KG a very quick pair of technicals (from about 30 feet away) and tossed him in the 2nd quarter of the Celtics 104-101 win over the Knicks (in which Amare scored 30). In another outing last season with the Celtics, the loss to the Bobcats in Charlotte, he tossed Stephen Jackson after 2 quick questionable T's. His quickness with the T dates back to his days in the D-league where he was close to the top in calling technical fouls there as well. The Celtics are 1-0 this seasion and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Fitzgerald and the Hawks are also 1-0 this season and 7-3 in their last 8 games over the past 2 seasons with Fitzgerald. Another homer ref, his home W/L record is 25-11 this season.

Derek Richardson
Richardson has officiated 860 regular season games and one playoff game, as well as the 2003 NBA Rookie Game in Atlanta, during his 14 seasons as an NBA official. Prior to joining the NBA, Richardson spent eight years officiating in the CBA, including the 1996 CBA All-Star game and two games of the 1996 CBA Finals. Richardson played basketball at Los Angeles Southwest College and earned an Associate of Arts degree in Criminal Justice. Richardson is known for being inconsistent with his calls, especially on charge/block calls. The Celtics 1-1 this season and are 7-3 over their last 10 games with Richardson. The Hawks are 2-0 this season and 5-5 over their last 10 games with Richardson as a ref. Not affected by the home crowd, his home W/L record is 14-18.

Road Weary and Desire
This is the Celtics 6th game on an 8 game road trip.  They have been on the road for awhile but did have Sunday off while the Hawks played in Cleveland on Sunday.  Hopefully the Celtics can find the energy to finish this road trip off with some wins.  Every game now is important but this game is big as a win will move the Celtics to within 1.5 games of Atlanta for the 6th spot, and a loss moves them 3.5 back.  Will the Celtics realize the importance of this game in the standings and give it their best effort?  If they do, they should get the win.