Boston: 107.9 points/100 possessions (13th)
Atlanta: 111.9 points/100 possessions (3rd)
Boston: 101.6 points allowed/100 possessions (1st)
Atlanta: 106.1 points allowed/100 possessions (12th)
Thumbnail: It would be really nice to beat this damn team, if only to stave off the (semi-unnecessary) panic about set in among C’s fans.
WHAT THE HAWKS DO WELL:
• Take care of the basketball. The Hawks are an elite offensive team, and this is one of the main reasons why. No team turns the ball over less often.
• The mid-range game. I love Hoopdata.com. Their shot location page is a gold mine of information. Swim around in that gold mine like you’re Scrooge McDuck, and you can find the stat equivalents of the crowns and scepters Uncle Scrooge randomly kept buried in his giant money bin. Among them: Atlanta is a fairly prolific mid-range shooting team. Only the Kings attempt more shots from between five and 10 feet from the rim, and Atlanta hits an above average percentage of those shots. They’re even more accurate from between 10 and 15 feet.
Watch for this—Josh Smith, Joe Johnson and Al Horford are both nifty finishers from the in-between range.
• Offensive Rebounding. They’re #8 in the league, with two starters (Smith and Horford) and one back-up (Zaza Pachulia) who can really get on the glass. The Hawks are averaging about 12 offensive boards per game against Boston this season, and destroyed them with 16 in the teams’ first meeting. The C’s must take care of the defensive glass if they want to win in their last (regular season) chance against Atlanta.
WHAT THE HAWKS DO POORLY:
• Get to the line. The Hawks are not good at generating foul shots, in part because their point guard (Mike Bibby) can’t drive and because their primary offensive weapon (Johnson) doesn’t draw fouls as much as players with similar scoring burdens. It is crucial that Boston make Atlanta earn its points.
• Protect the defensive glass. Believe it or not, with all of those young, bouncy athletes, the Hawks rank 23rd in the league in defensive rebounding percentage—six spots below those graybeard C’s. The Celtics don’t grab many offensive boards; this would be a nice night to get some.
• Defend the three. Now we’re grasping at straws. Only seven teams have allowed opponents to shoot a higher percentage from deep than have the Hawks (36.3 percent), but that figure is only a percentage point above league average and would have been about exactly league average last season. So this isn’t really a huge problem.
PLAYER/S WHO MAKE ME WORRY:
• Horford and Smith. My nightmares consist of Al Horford sliding around Rasheed Wallace for an offensive rebound and Josh Smith stealing a bad Kendrick Perkins pass and streaking down the court for a crowd-juicing power dunk. And also: Smith jumping over every Celtics big man to cram in a Hawks miss.
• Joe Johnson. Ray Allen can’t guard him. He’s 7-of-11 from deep in his last two games against Boston. He torched the C’s for 36 points on 14-of-25 shooting the last time Boston and Atlanta played. The C’s defense is going to have to try something different—doubling on screen/rolls, shading a man over to the strong side when Johnson has the ball—as they did a few times with Andre Miller against Portland last week. Something.
PLAYER/S WHO DO NOT MAKE ME WORRY:
• Jamal Crawford. When will it stop?
• Mike Bibby. The Celtics have to attack him however they can. Rajon Rondo must be a scorer.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM BOSTON TONIGHT:
• A freaking win.
• Attack Bibby. That’s not as easy as it sounds. The Hawks can’t hide Bibby against Boston’s starters, since the C’s don’t have an offensive after-thought such as Keith Bogans or Derek Fisher in their starting five. But the Hawks can protect Bibby by switching on screen/rolls, and they do almost anytime their opponent runs one. Their bigs—especially Horford and Smith—are quick enough to stay with speedy guards in short spurts.
Even so: Boston has to exploit the Rondo-Bibby match-up, either by attacking mismatches after the Hawks switch or by running sets that don’t present Atlanta with an easy opportunity to switch. And when they do run screen/rolls, Rondo is going to have to just put his head down and drive without hesitation—switch or no switch.
• Flexibility with Joe Johnson. I mentioned this above. If straight-up defense isn’t working, I’d like to see Boston experiment with some over-loading on Johnson. The C’s succeeded with a soft double-team last season, but Josh Smith has made this a more dangerous prospect, since he’ll attack the hoop instead of settling for long jumpers if teams leave him open on the weak side.
• This is a tough game—the second of a road-road back-to-back against a rested team. Sorry, guys. Hawks 101, C’s 97.