Celtics host the Hawks in a must win Game 6

Atlanta Hawks (2-3) at Boston Celtics (3-2)
Thursday, May 10, 2012
8:00 PM ET
Game #6,  Home Game #3
Radio:  WEEI
TD Garden 
Referees:  Derrick Stafford,  Bill Kennedy,  Eric Lewis 

Here we are at game 6.  The Celtics wasted a big opportunity to move on to the second round and get some rest along the way by letting game 5 slip away from them.   For whatever reason, the Celtics never played their best in game 5 and let the Hawks hang around and pull out a 1 point win. They didn't show any signs of the intensity of a team that wanted to close out the series and get some rest. 

The Hawks made a change in their starting 5 and brought out a big line up to start that game and since they were successful with it, will more than likely start the same lineup with Joe Johnson slipping to the 2, Marvin Williams starting at the 3 and the very healthy looking Al Horford starting at center.   With this bigger lineup, they beat the Celtics on the boards and in the paint and they also beat the Celtics on hustle. 

The Celtics need to approach game 6 with the mindset of game 7.  They absolutely don't want to face this Hawks team in a game 7 on their home court.   While the Celtics seem to be more banged up as the series goes on,  it appears that the Hawks are getting healthier.  There was no sign of rust or hesitation from either Smith or Horford.  On the other hand, Paul Pierce was hesitant and a step slow all night, shooting 7-17 from the field and at times walking gingerly because of a sprained MCL.  Avery Bradley also played hesitantly with his sore shoulder.   

The Celtics have given the Hawks some life and now it's time to snuff out any hope that they can win this series.  The Celtics must come out strong and leave no doubt who the better team is.  They can't give them a reason to think they can hang around and pull out another win.  This is a must win game and the Celtics need to play like it from the opening jump to the final buzzer.  The longer the Celtics allow the Hawks to hang around in this series, the more dangerous they become.

Probable Starters
PG: #9 Rajon Rondo .................................................... SG: #0  Avery Bradley

C: #5 Kevin Garnett 

SF: #34 Paul Pierce .............................................. PF #30 Brandon Bass 
Celtics Reserves
Marquis Daniels
Mickael Pietrus
Keyon Dooling
E'twaun Moore
Greg Stiemsma
JaJuan Johnson
Ryan Hollins
Sasha Pavlovic


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

Probable Starters
PG: #0  Jeff Teague  ............................................  SG:#2 Joe Johnson

C: #15 Al Horford 
SF: #24 Marvin Williams  ............................................. PF: #5 Josh Smith

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

Zaza Pachulia (foot) day to day

Key Players for the

Rajon Rondo seemed to be somewhat passive in the first half of game 5 and as a result, the Celtics also seemed to be playing somewhat passive.  After the game, he wasn't in good spirits and that could be good for the Celtics.  They need "mad Rondo" who will come out and be aggressive from the very start of the game.  As Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. Triple Double Rondo needs to show up for this one. 

The Celtics need their Captain to be "The Truth" in this game.  In game 5 he seemed to be a step slow and his jumpers were off for the most part and he couldn't even make his layups. He wouldn't blame the knee injury for his performance, but it probably is the reason for it.   Pierce is tough and plays through pain, but he needs his mobility and lift to be effective.  Whether Pierce's knee will be any better in this game remains to be seen but we can only hope so. 

Key Players for the

Al Horford showed no ill effects from the injury that kept him out most of the season.  He played 41 minutes, scored 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.  He also played stellar defense on Rondo, preventing the Celtics from getting a game winning shot at the end.  The Celtics have to find a way to keep him from having another big game. 

Josh Smith has had 2 huge games for the Hawks and they have won both of them.   In game 1, Smith had 22 points, 18 rebounds, and 4 assists while in game 5, he had a line of 13 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 assists.  The Celtics have got to put more pressure on Smith and somehow keep him off the boards. 

Key off the Bench

The Celtics need Mickael Pietrus and Ryan Hollins to give them some quality minutes off the bench.  It's certain that Ray will hit some big shots and the Celtics will need that, especially if Pierce is still not 100% but the Celtics also need Pietrus to his his shots (he was 1-4 in game 5) and they especially need Hollins to crash the boards (he had 4 rebounds in game 5). 

Kirk Hinrich and Erick Dampier
Hinrich hit some big shots off the bench for the Hawks (he was 3-4 from the field and 1-1 from beyond the arc.  Dampier also came off the bench to give them some muscle in the paint and keep the Celtics away from the basket.   The Hawks depended heavily on their starters, who played big minutes, but they did get a boost from these two especially when they came into the game. 
Key Matchup
Doc Rivers vs Larry Drew
Larry Drew made the last move by changing up his starting lineup.  It's Doc's turn to counter with something to throw the Hawks off in this game.  The Hawks' game threads have pages of complaints about Drew and what a terrible coach he is.   We know that Doc is one of the best.  The Celtics need him to be masterful in this game.  (That includes not running out of time outs so if we need one with 10 seconds to go, we'll have one).

Keys to the Game
Defense - This is the key to every game and to winning a championship this year.   The Celtics must get stops and disrupt the Hawks offense early and often.  They have to keep the Hawks from getting to the basket for easy layups and tip ins.  They also must defend the 3 point line.  They left Marvin Williams wide open for 3 very easy three pointers from the corner in game 5.  They have to close out on the shooters and defend the paint.  They also have to pressure the ball every chance they get. 

Rebound -  Rebounding is key to controlling the tempo and flow of the game.  The Celtics must limit tip ins and second chance points by crashing the boards and limiting the Hawks rebounds.  It's not a coincidence that the Celtics were out-rebounded in their losses 50-41 and 41-33 but they won the rebounding battle 45-40 and 51-48 in 2 of their wins and were narrowly out rebounded 40-37 in the 3rd win.  Rebounding is effort and desire and when the Celtics show both effort and desire on the boards that translates to all the other areas of the game.   The Celtics must crash the boards as a team and win the rebounding battle.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team.  They have to be aggressive in going to the basket, especially if their jumpers aren't falling.  As fatigue becomes more of a factor, being aggressive in getting into the paint will become more important.  They also must be aggressive in going after loose balls and rebounds.  They can't let the Hawks out hustle them.  In game 5, the Hawks were definitely the more aggressive team for most of the game.  The Celtics have to play like they want it more and out-hustle the Hawks on EVERY play. 

Focus- The Celtics have to come out focused and keep that focus until the final buzzer.  They have gone through periods in each game so far (except game 4 for the most part) where they lose their focus and make careless passes and allow the Hawks to make a run.  They must keep their composure and their focus whether they are up or down and whether they are getting the calls or not.  The Hawks will be desperate to keep their season alive and the Celtics have to match that desperation with focus and smart play. 

Official Report
Derrick Stafford
Over his 23 NBA seasons, Derrick Stafford has worked 1,402 regular season, 99 playoff, and five Finals games. He was a member of the crew that officiated the 1997 McDonald’s Championship in Paris, the Legends All-Star Game in Orlando and the 2002 NBA All-Star Game. The 23-year NBA officiating veteran has also served twice on the Executive Board of the National Basketball Referee Association. Stafford has six years of CBA officiating experience, and he officiated Pro-Am basketball for six years. He also has seven years of collegiate officiating and 10 years of high school officiating experience in Georgia. Stafford is known to be quick to call technical fouls. Pat Riley and Stafford have a bit of bad blood between them. Back in 2003 when Riley was coaching, he accused Stafford of shouting "It's not about you." at Riley when Riley complained excessively about the calls. Stafford was suspended for 2 games as a result. Stafford was also fined as a result of a complaint that Lawrence Frank made when he was coach of the Nets. I found 4 other articles detailing complaints about Stafford for his actions or comments. It seems that Mr Stafford is a hot head who loves to give out quick technicals and lash out at players and coaches who question him. The Celtics are 1-2 this season and 5-5 over the last 10 games with Stafford on the court. Their win was against Toronto and the Celtics shot 32 free throws to 20 for the Raptors. One loss was to the Lakers where the officiating was terrible and the Celtics shot just 5 (yes, that's five) free throws to 20 for the Lakers. The second loss was to the Raptors where Toronto shot 31 free throws to 19 for the Celtics. The Hawks are 4-0 this season and 6-4 over their last 10 games with Stafford. His home W/L record this season is 38-18.

Bill Kennedy
Kennedy’s 13 seasons of NBA officiating experience include 814 regular season and 42 playoff games including 3 Finals games. In addition to his NBA experience, Kennedy has 5 years officiating experience in the CBA, including working the 1996 and 1997 CBA Finals. He also officiated 2 games in the WNBA Finals in 1998,
and has 15 years of high school officiating experience in Arizona. Celtics fans will remember Kennedy's run in with Doc Rivers that resulted in both of them being fined. Yes, David Stern fined one of his precious refs and certainly, Kennedy hasn't forgotten. Here is how Doc described the incident:
"[Kennedy] stood there and goaded me and goaded me and goaded me and stared at me," Rivers said. "Look at the film. I actually walked away. He asked me, 'Where do you want the ball?' And I said, 'Ask them,' talking about our players. That's my right to say that, and I walked away. He stood there and stared me down and stared me down and goaded me until I turned around and said, 'What?' That's when I got thrown out of the game."
Doc was fined for criticizing a referee, but since the league fined Kennedy, they as much as admitted that Doc's criticism was deserved. Go figure. According to Tim Donaghy, Bill Kennedy is gay and his beef with Doc stems from Doc questioning his sexual orientation. The Celtics are 1-1 with Kennedy this season. The win was at Indiana where the Pacers shot 31 free throws to 14 for the Celtics. When the Pacers were down 7, Kennedy called a bogus flagrant foul on Pietrus that gave the Pacers 2 shots and the ball. And if that wasn't enough he called another technical on Pietrus for taunting on that same play. In a 7 point game with 34 seconds to go, they handed the Pacers 5 points. The Celtics are 6-4 over their last 10 games with Kennedy on the court. The Hawks are 3-1 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Kennedy. His home W/L record this season is 33-22.

Eric Lewis
This is Lewis' seventh season as an NBA official. He has 427 regular season games and six playoff games. Prior to the NBA he worked three seasons in the NBA Development League, where he worked the 2004 D-League Finals and the 2003 and 2004 Playoffs. He also has 8 years experience calling college games and 6 years officiating high school games. In the offseason he works with troubled teens. The Celtics are 1-3 this season and 5-5 in their last 10 games with Lewis as a ref. One loss this season was at home vs Cleveland. The refs in that game were terrible and allowed hacking all night by the Cavs. They failed to call a very obvious foul on the Cavs against Pierce in crunch time. The Cavs took 20 free throws to 14 for the Celtics. The second loss was the Bulls where the officiating was again terrible. The Bulls shot 9 free throws before the Celtics got to the line even once and the Bulls shot 28 free throws to 18 for the Celtics. The 3rd loss was vs Philly where the Sixers shot 18 free throws to 13 for the Celtics and the refs pretty much let both teams play. The win was in OT vs the Knicks where the Knicks shot 26 free throws to 22 for the Celtics and the game was called fairly. The Hawks are 5-2 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games. His home W/L record this season is 33-23.

Injuries, Officiating, and Home Court
As with each game so far, injuries could be the x-factor. Will Paul Pierce's knee limit his effectiveness? Will Josh Smith or Al Horford show any effects of their injuries that seemed to be completely healed in game 5? Can Avery be effective with his shoulder injury? Will Ray Allen have a big game in spite of the sore ankle? Officiating is also always an x-factor. Will this be the game that Bill Kennedy decides to get back at Doc? The Celtics will be at home and so hopefully get the benefit of the doubt in calls, but that's not always the case. Will Herr Stern and his minions want a game 7 for the ratings? Let's hope that the Celtics get a boost from the home fans and the advantage that is playing on your home court.