Celtics look to close out series - Hawks try to stay alive

Boston Celtics (3-1) at Atlanta Hawks (1-3)
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
8:00 PM ET
Round 1, Game #5, Road Game #3
Radio:  WEEI
Philips Arena
Referees:  Dan Crawford, David Jones, Tom Washington

The Celtics could close this series out with a win in this game.  The prospect of getting some rest before facing either the Sixers or the Bulls should be enough motivation for the them to get this done. After the beat down that the Celtics gave the Hawks in game 4, the Celtics need to keep their momentum and come out focused and ready to play and then sit back and wait for their second round opponent.

After 3 so-so games, the Celtics finally showed what they are capable of with a dominant blow out win in game 4.  Hopefully the Celtics come out with the same mindset and put the Hawks away early because letting them hang around and gain confidence would be a big mistake.  We've seen that the Hawks can be a dangerous team if the Celtics don't play their best.  They are going to be desperate in this game and even though the Celtics are up 3-1 in the series, the Celtics also need to play desperate.  If they give the Hawks some confidence, you never know what could happen. 

The talk of this series is still about injuries and who will and won't play.  On the Celtics side, we can add Paul Pierce to the walking wounded after game 4.  Paul Pierce (knee), Avery Bradley (shoulder), Ray Allen (ankle),  Mickael Pietrus (hamstring), and Greg Stiemsma (feet) are all expected to play, but the injuries can take their toll and slow them down a bit, especially as the games wear on.  That's why the Celtics must come out strong like they did in game 4 and take control right from the start.

For the Hawks, they got an unexpected return from Al Horford in game 4 but it didn't give them the boost they had hoped for.  He played well after being out for so long, but was obviously not 100%.    Josh Smith also returned after missing game 3 and played well, but seemed to be half a step slow at times.  Both should play better in this game.   There have also been rumors that Zaza Pachulia might make a return in this series as well.  It seems that the longer the series goes on, the healthier the Hawks get and the more banged up the Celtics get. 

It may sound strange to think of a game 5 as must win when you are up 3 games to 1, but this one pretty much is just that.  In the playoffs, every game becomes must win as you never know what is going to happen if the series goes the distance, especially with an older team that is playing a younger and more athletic team.  The Hawks know they need this game and will play hard.   The Celtics also need this one and so hopefully they will match that effort. 

Probable Starting Matchups
Point Guard  
Rajon Rondo vs Jeff Teague

Shooting Guard
Avery Bradley vs Joe Johnson

Small Forward
Paul Pierce vs Marvin Williams

Power Forward
Brandon Bass vs Josh Smith

Kevin Garnett vs Al Horford

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

Ray Allen (ankle) will play
Greg Stiemsma (feet) will play
Avery Bradley (shoulder) will play
Paul Pierce (knee) will play
Mickael Pietrus (hamstring) will play

Hawks Reserves
Erick Dampier
Willie Green
Ivan Johnson
Tracy McGrady
Jannero Pargo
Vladimir Radmanovic
Jerry Stackhouse
Kirk Hinrich
Jason Collins

Zaza Pachulia (foot) day to day
Al Horford (pectoral) will play
Josh Smith (knee) will play
Tracy McGrady (ankle) will play 

Key Matchups
Rajon Rondo vs Jeff Teague
Rondo simply took over game 4 and willed the Celtics to that win.  The Celtics will need aggressive Rondo once again in this game to pull off this win on the road.   Rondo has to control the pace of the game and keep the Celtics' offense moving.

Paul Pierce vs Marvin Williams
Paul Pierce set the pace for the Celtics right from the beginning as he aggressively took the ball into the paint and got the Celtics off to a strong start. The Hawks are shaking things up by moving Johnson to the 2 and starting Williams at the 3.   Williams is a better defender than Johnson and could make things more difficult for Pierce on the offensive end. 

Honorable Mention
Doc Rivers vs Larry Drew
In a 7 game series, the coaching becomes more important the longer the series goes on.  Both coaches must make adjustments going into the game and they must also make in game adjustments to counter the other coach. Drew has already made his move by changing up his starting lineup to move Johnson to the 2 and start Williams at the 3 along with starting Horford at center. Doc needs to counter and work these matchups to the Celtics benefit.  Doc is one of the best coaches in the league and as long as the players come out and follow his instructions, it gives the Celtics an advantage.

Avery Bradley vs Joe Johnson
With Johnson moving to shooting guard, things just got more difficult for Avery Bradley and the Celtics.  Johnson has a 5 inch height advantage so even if Avery can stay with him,  he may be able to get his shot off over him, especially if he posts up instead of settling for jumpers as he has with Pierce covering him.  Johnson has said that he wants more touches in this game and will probably get them.  Avery must keep Johnson from having a big game.   Hopefully Doc will watch this matchup carefully and if Avery gets burned a few times by Johnson he will counter with Pietrus or Sasha. 

Keys to the Game

Defense - The Celtics have made defense their calling card all season. The Hawks are shooting 38.5% in the playoffs and some of that is just missing jumpers.  But some of it is the Celtics playing some very impressive defense.   The Celtics offense often begins with defense and the better their defense, the better they play overall.  They absolutely need to keep their defensive mindset in this game and play tough D right from the beginning up to the final buzzer.  

Rebound - No rebounds, no win. It's as simple as that. The Celtics must crash the boards and keep the Hawks from getting tip ins and second chance baskets. Smith and Horford are both very good at getting to the hoop and tipping the ball in on misses. They must crash the boards as a team and get every rebound they can.   Much of rebounding is desire, effort, and timing. When the Celtics put out the effort on the boards, that effort often spreads to other areas of their game.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the team that wants to win more.  They wanted it more in game 4 and the results showed it.   They have to be aggressive on defense, in going after loose balls, in crashing the boards, and most importantly, in going to the basket and not settling for jumpers, especially if those jumpers stop falling again. The more aggressive team will get the benefit of the calls from the refs and that has to be the Celtics.

Run the Offense - In game 4, the Celtics moved without the ball, made the extra pass and found the open man.  The Hawks defense couldn't keep up with their ball movement.  KG was very excited about their communication in game 4 and they have to continue that in game 5.   Communicate, move without the ball, make the extra pass, take care of the ball, all are important as they try to replicate their offensive success in this game.

Official Report

Dan Crawford
Entering his 27th NBA season, Dan Crawford has officiated 1,770 regular season and 256 playoff games, including 25 NBA Finals games. During his NBA tenure, Crawford has officiated the 1994 and 2001 NBA All-Star Games, and the 1992 Japan Games in Yokohama. Prior to joining the NBA, Crawford spent four years officiating in the CBA. He has eight years of collegiate officiating experience and officiated the 1983
and 1984 National Junior College Nationals. Crawford has been honored for his achievements in the Northeastern (Ill.) Wall of Fame. Crawford was a member of the Northeastern University basketball team. After one of the Celtics playoff games in Chicago in round 1 in 2008, there was some controversy when he was seen leaving the arena with his family all decked out in Chicago Bulls gear. He's been in the news lately because he has been accused of having a bias against Marc Cuban because the Mavs were 2-16 in games officiated by Crawford last season and Cuban has been very vocal about it. The Celtics are 1-2 this season and are 6-4 over their last 10 game with Crawford officiating. One loss this season was the against Miami game in which the Heat shot 8 more free throws than the Celtics. The second loss was to he Knicks where NY shot 17 free throws to 34 for the Celtics. The win was over New Jersey where the Nets shot 10 free throws to 21 for the Celtics. His home W/L record is 33-23 this season.

David Jones
David Jones has officiated 1,335 regular season games and 40 playoff games throughout his 22 seasons as an NBA official. In addition, Jones officiated both the men’s and women’s 2000 Olympic Bronze Medal Games. Jones has eight years of collegiate officiating experience. He was one of the refs who helped to train Tim Donaghy and was very outspoken in condemning Donaghy's actions and felt that Donaghy's actions took the "ethics and integrity of the profession and threw them out the window." I guess he hasn't looked very hard at the current crop of refs that also lacks ethics and integrity. The Celtics are 4-1 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Jones. In the first win against Orlando, the Celtics shot 19 free throws compared to 31 for the Magic. In the second win, the Celtics shot 12 free throws to 18 for the Raptors. In the third win, the Celtics shot 11 free throws to 25 for the Wolves. In the 4th win, the Celtics shot 25 free throws to 27 for the Heat. The officiating was fairly decent in all of them. The loss was the 4/20 game vs the Hawks where the Celtics bench almost beat the Hawks starters. 18 fouls were called on the Celtics in that game vs 8 for the Hawks. His home W/L record this season is 28-27.

Tom Washington
Over his 20-season NBA officiating career, Tom Washington has officiated 1,196+ regular season games, 103 playoff games and two Finals games. He was a member of the crew that officiated the 1995 Schick Rookie Game, the 1996 Japan
Games in Tokyo and the 2004 NBA All-Star Game. In addition to his 20 seasons with the NBA, Washington has two years of CBA officiating experience. He has one year collegiate officiating experience and five years of high school officiating experience in his hometown of Philadelphia. The Celtics are 1-2 this season with Washington on the court. One loss was the Pacer game where the Celtics were called for 24 fouls compared to 18 for the Pacers. Another loss was to the Pistons where Detroit shot 46 free throws to 15 for the Celtics, Rondo was ejected, and Tommy Heinsohn called it the worst officiated game all season. The win was the 87-56 Orlando beat down in which the Celtics took 19 free throws to 30 for the Magic. They are 8-2 over their last 10 games with Washington. His home W/L record this season is 36-19.


Focus, Health and Officiating
Focus - The Celtics often control their own fate in games.   The difference in their focus is seen in the difference between game 1 and game 4.  When they come out focused and keep their minds in the game for the entire 48 minutes,  they are very tough to beat.
Health - Both teams are dealing with injuries and with players who are playing at less than 100%.  How each team deals with their own injuries and how they attack the weaknesses of the other team, will go a long way to determining the winner of this game.
Officiating - Unfortunately, the way a game is called is sadly often a factor in the outcome. Hopefully the Celtics will get a fair shake from the refs in spite of playing on the road.  They have proved they can win playing 5 on 8 (See 4/11 game vs the Hawks) but it makes it very hard.