Celtics: 54-19 (25-13 on road); Off. Efficiency 110.3 (5th); Def. Efficiency 101.5 (1st)
Hawks: 42-30 (28-8 at home); Off. Efficiency 109.5 (10th); Def. Efficiency 107.3 (12th)
Season Series: 3rd of 4 meetings. Boston leads 2-0
November 12th: ATL 102 BOS 103
December 17th: BOS 88 ATL 85
Celtics: OUT: Leon Powe (knee), Tony Allen (thumb), Brian Scalabrine (concussions) PROBABLE: Rajon Rondo (ankle) Kevin Garnett (knee)
Hawks: OUT: Marvin Williams (back), Speedy Claxton (knee), QUESTIONABLE: Acie Law (back)
Another road game for the Celtics means another match up with a playoff nemesis, this time coming in the form of the Atlanta Hawks. While Rajon Rondo was sure not to distinguish this Hawk team as rivals of the C’s, the two squads have had a nice little feud brewing since last year’s first round 7 game series. Since then, the Celtics coming to town have created a lot of buzz in Atlanta with an electric atmosphere in the Phillips Arena during the C’s last visit in December.
Three months have passed since this showdown however and there seems to be a lack of hype surrounding this match up. That reality likely stems from the fact that Atlanta has little to play for at this point in the season as they are safely nestled into the 4th seed in the East, with a four game lead over Philly with 10 games to play. There’s a lot of seeding that needs to be settled in the last few weeks in this conference but Atlanta (as well as Cleveland) will be able to sit back and watch patiently to see how it all shakes out.
The Celtics on the other hand still have a good deal to play for in these final 10 games as they aim to earn the 2nd seed. Of course their priority first and foremost will be to get everyone completely healthy, but that doesn’t mean they will forfeit the 2nd seed to the Magic in the process. And after playing sloppy basketball for the majority of the first 3 quarters against Orlando, I look for the C’s to come out aggressive tonight in an attempt to get back on the winning track.
Even though the Atlanta don’t have as much to play for, that doesn’t mean this will be an easy game for the C’s. In fact, it likely will be just the opposite. Atlanta has one of the best home records in the league at 28-8 and convincingly swept a 7 game home stand against primarily elite Western Conference foes (New Orleans, Utah, Portland, Dallas) They dropped a game at home Wednesday night to the Spurs so it is likely they will be hungry to rebound from that setback.
Atlanta’s success at home stems mostly from their improved defense as they are giving up 93 points a game in Phillips Arena, 3 points below their overall average for the year. The Hawks also shoot and move the ball better offensively at home (23 assists/game vs 18/game on road) and put forth a superior effort in limiting their opponent’s offensive rebounding.
The Hawks have won 8 out of 10 recently despite the absence of Marvin Williams due to a strained lower back. Maurice Evans has replaced Williams in the starting lineup and the team has benefited from balanced scoring by the starting five in his absence. Williams has played well against the C’s in the past couple years creating a tough match up for The Green with his athleticism and shooting ability, so it will be a relief not to face him tonight.
In his absence though look out for Flip Murray who has stepped up his production off the bench. Murray has carried the Atlanta offense at times recently, averaging just shy of 20 points/game in his past five contests. The C’s bench unit will have to make it a priority to keep a body on him tonight at all times and not let him get in rhythm.
Finally The Boston Herald is reporting both Rondo and Garnett will be gametime decisions tonight even though Rondo insists that he will play. I expect to see both tonight but won’t be surprised if Doc limits Rondo’s minutes much like KG. Health will clearly be the top priority though so if there is any serious concern with Rondo’s ankle, I expect Doc to sit him.
Celticshub will keep you posted on the situation up to game time