Celtics face Hawks in possible playoffs preview

Atlanta Hawks (34-23)  at Boston Celtics (33-24)
Wednesday, April 11
8:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #58, Home Game #30
TV:   CSNNE,  SPSO, LP 754(ATL)/755(BOS)
Radio:  WEEI,  WCNN
TD Garden 
Referees:  Marc Davis,  Leroy Richardson,  Zach Zarba  

This is the second meeting between these two teams this season.  They will meet one more time on April 20 in Atlanta.  The Celtics are 1-0 in the series after beating the Hawks 79-76 in Atlanta.  Ray came up big in the second half, hitting some key shots,  as did Pietrus who also hit a couple of big shots as well as defending Johnson very well to limit his scoring at the end.

Both of these teams are fighting for playoff position.  The Celtics are in the 4th spot by virtue of leading the Atlantic division.  The Hawks are in the 5th spot 1 game ahead of the Celtics.  A win in this game would tie the Celtics with the Hawks for home court in the playoffs and would also give them the tie breaker.   The Hawks are also just 1 game behind the Pacers who are in the 3rd spot. The Celtics are 2 games back of the 3rd spot.  Every game now counts and each game could change the seeding. This is a potential first round matchup and a win here would be big.   Both teams need this game and so expect a tough hard fought game.  

Atlanta's record may be a bit deceiving.  They are just 12-20 vs teams with +.500 records..  That is the worst record among any of the playoff teams.   However, they have the best record by far against teams with under .500 records.  Both teams are going for their 4th straight win.  The Hawks beat the Bobcats twice and the Pistons in their streak.   The Celtics beat the Pacers, Sixers and Heat on their streak.

The Celtics are 20-9 at home while the Hawks are 15-15 on the road.  The Hawks are 7-3 in their last 10 games while the Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10..  Atlanta has had a very rare 3 days off since their last game.  They will be well rested and will benefit from an opportunity to practice over that break.  The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games and are in a brutal stretch of 7 games in 9 nights.  They are coming off a big win over the Heat which could give them a psychological boost.  The Celtics are 6-0 in back to back games at home and hopefully they can keep that streak going.

Probable Starting Matchups

Point Guard
Rajon Rondo vs Jeff Teague

Shooting Guard
Avery Bradley vs Kirk Hinrich

Small Forward  
Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson

Power Forward  
Brandon Bass vs Josh Smith

Kevin Garnett vs Zaza Pachulia

Celtics Reserves
Greg Stiemsma
JaJuan Johnson
E'Twaun Moore
Keyon Dooling
Sasha Pavlovic
Marquis Daniels
Ryan Hollins
Ray Allen

Mickael Pietrus (concussion) out
Jermaine O'Neal (wrist)  out

Hawks Reserves
Tracy McGrady
Ivan Johnson
Jason Collins
Jerry Stackhouse
Erick Dampier
Jannero Pargo
Willie Green
Marvin Williams  

Vladimir Radmanovic (back) out
Al Horford (Pectoral)  out

Key Matchups
Brandon Bass vs Josh Smith
Smith is a very athletic and quick power forward and  Brandon must box out and keep Smith off the boards along with slowing him down on offense.  Smith is an average defender, though and so Bass should be able to get his shot off.  Neither player did well offensively in their first meeting with Bass scoring just 8 points and Smith going for 10.

Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson  is athletic and quick and can score in bunches.  Pierce is stronger though.    Pierce was just 4-14 (13 points) in their first meeting while Johnson scored 25 on 9-17 shooting.  Pierce was in foul trouble much of the game, with many of the calls questionable.  Hopefully that won't be a problem at home.    Pierce has been playing very well and should have a better game this time around.  Hopefully he can also keep Johnson in check on the defensive end as well.

Honorable Mention
Rajon Rondo vs Jeff Teague
Rondo needs to be aggressive and set the pace for the game.   In their first meeting, Rondo scored 10 points and dished out 13 assists while Teague had just 8 points and 3 assists.   Rondo should give the Celtics the advantage at the PG position.
Keys to the Game
Defense -  Defense is key to every win.  The Celtics need to play tough team defense.  They did the job in their last meeting by holding them to 38.7% shooting.  They have to guard the perimeter as the Hawks have good 3 point shooters who can kill a team from out there.  They also have to defend the paint because players like Smith, Johnson and Pachulia can get to the hoop and score there.

Rebound - The Celtics must make an effort to go after rebounds.  They must box out and prevent Smith and Pachulia especially from getting tip ins and to prevent the Hawks from getting second chance baskets.  The Hawks had 26 points in the paint in their last meeting and many of those were tip ins at the hoop. The Celtics showed that rebounding is effort by out-rebounding the Heat and they need to put that effort on the boards in this game also.  

Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team.  They have to go after rebounds and loose balls.  They must be aggressive in going to the basket and not settle for jumpers.  They also have to be aggressive on defense and get stops.   They must play like they want it more.  We saw that aggressiveness against the Heat.  Hopefully fatigue won't prevent them from showing it again.

Official Report
Marc Davis
Davis has been an NBA official for the past 14 seasons, working 802 regular season games and 35 playoff games, and the 2007 NBA All-Star Game. Davis officited his first two Finals games during the 2010-11 season. In addition to his NBA experience, Davis has three years of CBA officiating experience, and three
years of collegiate basketball officiating experience. Davis was investigated for threatening to whoop Allen Iverson's a** when AI complained about a call in a game in 2005, but was not suspended for it. The Celtics are 0-2 this season and 8-2 in their last 10 games with Davis officiating. One loss this season was a 1 point loss to the Cavs in which Davis and friends ignored a very obvious foul committed against Paul Pierce in the final seconds of the game and in which the Cavs shot 20 free throws to 14 for the Celtics. The second loss was to the Thunder in which the Celtics shot 34 free throws to 35 for the Thunder and the game was tightly called. The Hawks are 2-1 this season and 5-5 in their last 10 games with Davis on the court. He isn't influenced by the home crowd and has a home W/L record of 21-20.

Leroy Richardson
Leroy Richardson served his country for 12 years in the United States Navy and was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal and two Good Conduct Medals. After leaving the Navy, Richardson decided to pursue officiating full time. Since joining the NBA staff, he has officiated 961 regular season games and eight playoff games over the past 16 seasons, and was a member of the crew that officiated the 2000 Schick Rookie Game, 2000 NBA All-Star Saturday and the 2003 Japan Games. Richardson has three years of CBA officiating experience as well as 10 years of Pro-Am officiating experience including the 1992 Pro Am Nationals. He also has three years of collegiate officiating experience and eight years experience
officiating in Virginia high schools, where he worked the VHSL State Tournament. The Celtics are 1-1 this season with Richardson. The win was against the Orlando and the Celtics shot 17 free throws to 30 for the Magic but the game was well officiated. The loss was to the Bulls where the Celtics shot 18 free throws to 26 by the Bulls and the officiating was inconsistent. The Celtics have an 9-1 record in their last 10 games with Richardson as a referee. The Hawks are 0-2 this season and are 6-4 in their last 10 with Richardson. He is one of the rare refs with more wins for the road team than the home team. His home W/L record this season is 19-23.

Zach Zarba
Zach Zarba has officiated 504 regular season NBA games and 13 Playoff games during his eight-year career. Prior to joining the NBA, Zarba officiated in the NBA Development League for two years where he was part of the crew that officiated
the 2003 D-League Finals. He also spent one year officiating in the CBA and two years officiating in the IBL. Zarba has three years of collegiate officiating experience. In addition, he has three years of high school officiating experience in New York. The Celtics are 1-2 with Zarba this season and 5-5 in their last 10 games with him. All 3 games this season were called somewhat evenly. The Hawks are 1-3 this season and 4-6 in their last 10 games with Zarba as an official. His W/L record this season is 31-16.

Fatigue and Home Again
The Celtics are playing in back to back games after a tough game in Miami and they had to travel overnight as well.  Atlanta has been off since Saturday and should be well rested (or maybe rusty).   The Celtics are at home and hopefully will get some energy from the crowd.