ATLANTA Avery Bradley has arrived high atop the scouting report, that is.
As much as the Atlanta Hawks focused their efforts on dealing with Boston's Big Four, limiting Bradley's impact was among the key factors in Atlanta's Game 1 win over the Celtics on Sunday.
Now that Rajon Rondo (suspension) is out for Game 2, Bradley's play will come under even greater scrutiny.
Rather than pair him up with another ball-handling guard such as Keyon Dooling, the Celtics have elected to go with Mickael Pietrus as a replacement in the starting lineup with Bradley sliding over to the point guard position.
You can bet that Paul Pierce will be more of a point-forward tonight, but Bradley will be called upon at times to bring the ball up and initiate the offense.
Without Rondo, Atlanta's Josh Smith said the Hawks will look to pressure the ball more with the goal being to make it as difficult as possible for the C's to run their offense.
That likely means trying to take advantage of Bradley's greatest weakness, which is his ball-handling.
Usually Bradley has done well in other areas of the game such as forcing turnovers, scoring off cuts to the basket or hitting wide open corner 3s.
"We need to cut Bradley's water off early; we can't let him get confidence early," Smith said. "When he plays with confidence, he's a tough player to guard. So we have to be able to try and take (away) his confidence early."
And they'll look to do that by trying to take his own strength and use it against him.
"Do what he does to us," Smith said. "He's one of the great defenders in this league at a young age. Just see if he likes it a little bit; picking him up full court and turning him a little bit and making it hard for him to initiate the offense for them."
The Bradley effect will go far in determining whether the Celtics can prevent the Hawks from taking a 2-0 series lead - something they have never done in the previous 11 playoff series they've had with the C's. Here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Rondo-less Celtics try to even up their first-round series with the Hawks and by doing so, immediately swing home court advantage of the series in their favor.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Atlanta will try to come out and knock down shots early in the shot clock, which was a major factor in them jumping out to a 20-6 lead in Game 1. In that opening run, the Hawks made eight field goals. Of those eight field goals, five came with 10 or more seconds on the shot clock. Boston's plan on countering that is pretty simple. "We have to defend, right from the start," C's Mickael Pietrus told CSNNE.com. "We have to come out, be more aggressive, be better defensively. We do that, we'll be OK."
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Jason Collins: This was one of those matchups in Game 1 where the numbers were deceiving. Garnett had 20 points and 12 rebounds while Collins had just six points and five rebounds. But let's be clear. In terms of what each player wanted to do and what their teams needed from them, Collins was the winner. He made Garnett take tough, contested shots which in turn led to Garnett shooting 8-for-19 from the field. The C's have often said that Garnett doesn't need to score a bunch in order to play well. This is true. He has to provide more of a presence at both ends of the floor, especially if Josh Smith (22 points, 18 rebounds) gets off to another fast start as was the case on Sunday.
PLAYER TO WATCH - The C's are hoping for a little post-birthday breakout game for Brandon Bass, who turned 27 years old on Monday. Although his numbers this season against the Hawks - 13 points, 8.3 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent from the field - are better than his season averages, the 6-8 forward has not played well in his last two games against the Hawks.
In a loss to Atlanta last month, he had 10 points but shot 4-for-15 from the field. And in Game 1, he was 3-for-7 with eight points. Bass said the Hawks have been defending him differently by switching more pick-and-rolls to prevent him from getting free for his mid-range jumper. While Bass would love to impact the game with his shot-making, he understands at this point impacting the game - period - is what the C's really need from him more than anything else.
"I just have to find a way to get more involved in the game earlier," Bass told CSNNE.com. "Blocking shots or something, rebounding, get everybody else involved if they're going to try and take me out of scoring. Now it's time for me to make my adjustment."
Rivers believes that it's Bass - not the Hawks - that have limited his effectiveness of late.
"His mind is alive, which is never good," Rivers told CSNNE.com, referring to Bass thinking too much on the floor. "He's just gotta play. We showed him (video) he's open. He's pump-faking; just shoot it."
Despite Bass having played in 29 playoff games, Sunday's game was his first with the C's and that, Rivers believes, makes his struggles not all that different than what some of the Celtics other playoff newbies are going through now. "He hadn't been in a big game with us, so he's just like Avery (Bradley) and Greg (Stiemsma)," Rivers said. "We expected it."
STAT TO TRACK - With Rajon Rondo out, you can expect Paul Pierce to spend more time as the Celtics' facilitator. As much as Boston benefits from Pierce's scoring, they have been very successful when the Truth is wheelin' and dealin' up assists at a fairly high rate. Pierce averaged 4.5 assists per game this season which ranked second to Rondo's NBA-high 11.7 assists per game. The Captain had 18 games in which he had six or more assists, with the Celtics emerging with an impressive 14-4 record in those games.
"I tell y'all many times, I play within the flow of the game, try to give it what it needs regardless of who is out there," Pierce said.