7 P.M. ET
Boston: 106.4 points/100 possessions (6th)
Atlanta: 108.7 points/100 possessions (4th)
Boston: 99.3 points allowed/100 possessions (tie-5th)
Atlanta: 104.8 points allowed/100 possessions (17th)
Probable Hawks starters: Joe Johnson (SG), Mike Bibby (PG), Marvin Williams (SF), Josh Smith (PF), Al Horford (C)
The Celtics come in riding a two-game losing streak. Without Rajon Rondo. On the road. In the second game of a back-to-back. Against a team that beat them four times in four tries last season. And doesn’t like them. At all.
This one might get messy, folks.
Dole out $120M contracts to aging shooting guards.
Also – beat up the Celtics’ defense.
The Hawks ran up some impressive offensive numbers against the Celtics last season on their way to the regular-season sweep. But new coach Larry Drew has installed a motion offense far less dependent on ISO situations. The Hawks are moving the ball from strong side to weak, setting off-ball screens and flashing cutters – all with sterling results (4th in the league in offensive efficiency).
That noted, the Hawks have had great success isolating Johnson on Allen. Johnson has torched Ray again and again the last few years, so Doc Rivers may elect to stretch out Delonte West tonight and let him body up on the Hawks’ shooting guard for extended minutes. One question though – is Joe Johnson still Joe Johnson? He’s still a high usage player, but off to a rough start this year, with a 16.06 PER (lowest since 2004-05) and middling shooting (tied for 191st in the league in TS% including only 25.4% from the three point line). He looks increasingly defensible.
The Hawks’ energetic frontline remains challenging for Boston’s older veteran group to contain, particularly on the second night of a back-to-back and with Horford appearing to have made the leap (see “Players Who Make Me Worry”). Expect the Hawks to attack relentlessly and make second and third efforts on loose balls and rebounds. Hope that Boston does the same.
To win tonight, Boston has to close out on shooters, finish off individual defensive possessions, limit the Hawks’ second chance points, and maintain its defense for something close to 48 minutes. Given all the trauma/fan anger over the defensive efforts against Oklahoma City and Toronto, it’d be pretty damn disappointing if they didn’t bring the necessary energy tonight.
For a little more in-depth play breakdown-ish-ness, the folks over at the Hawks blog Hoopinion have a look at one of the most common Hawks offensive sets this season. Ray Ray – are you watching?
WHAT THE HAWKS DO POORLY:
Defend and defensive rebound.
Which could be a really nice boon for a Boston offense that struggles to create good shots without Rondo on the court.
Bibby is a disaster one-on-one so we’ll see how aggressive Nate Robinson gets with him. Robinson looked like he was auditioning for the starting PG spot in the first quarter against the Raptors but didn’t look for his shot nearly as much in the second half. If he can break down Bibby off the dribble, everyone else could find themselves with good looks.
I’m torn on the size issue. The Hawks remain a relatively shrimpy group upfront. Shaquille O’Neal could swallow Horford if he chose to, Kevin Garnett has a few inches on Smith and Glen Davis should be able to work over the Hawks’ bench bigs. The question for Boston is: will they exploit this by forcing mismatches on pick and rolls and going aggressively into the post and attacking the offensive glass? My guess is the answer to the former is ‘yes’ and the latter two is ‘not enough’.
PLAYERS WHO MAKE ME WORRY:
Horford. Have you seen him play this year? He’s becoming an offensive beast.
This season, Horford is:
PLAYERS WHO DO NOT MAKE ME WORRY:
The Hawks’ bench mob. Their frontline depth doesn’t make me go all Zaza and I like both Marquis Daniels and West’s chances of containing Jamal Crawford. Or Jordan Crawford. Or any other Crawford they want to run out there.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM BOSTON TONIGHT:
Sustained defensive effort and focus from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
An ability to generate high percentage shots with Rondo in street clothes.
The bench stretching out the lead in the second and fourth quarters.
A war. With Boston exploiting their size and depth and escaping with a victory.
Boston 100, Atlanta 97