ATLANTA – There’s a lot of talk about how the Boston Celtics can get more bang out of their small-ball lineups, but going big may send the Celtics home with a 1-1 split in their best-of-seven playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Celtics have played the Hawks five times this season (that includes four regular season meetings) and came away with one victory.
In that win, a 106-93 victory on Nov. 13, Boston dominated the paint with a 50-35 rebounding advantage as well as a decisive 24-7 edge in second-chance points.
Boston’s big men had a huge impact on that game’s outcome.
Amir Johnson was filling up the stats sheet in several categories as he finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.
Jared Sullinger’s double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds may not seem that impressive, but his scoring and board work were balanced with some of his best defense of the season as his defensive rating (number of points allowed per 100 possessions) of 92.7 was among the team’s leaders for that game.
Boston got great mileage out of Jae Crowder who played some power forward as well. He had 15 points, eight rebounds and four steals with a defensive rating for the game of 86.8.
It’s not a coincidence that all three of Boston’s bigs (yes, we include Crowder because despite being 6-foot-6 he still plays some at power forward) as well as Kelly Olynyk off the bench (15 points in just under 17 minutes of court time) played well.
All three had their struggles in Game 1, particularly Crowder who had no answer for how to contain the highly-energetic Kent Bazemore who scored a playoff career-high 23 points.
And Olynyk was limited to just 11 minutes in Game 1 after he re-aggravated a right shoulder injury that sidelined him for 12 games this season. He is questionable for Game 2 on Tuesday.
Sullinger and Johnson coming through with strong play on the boards as well as scoring the ball, was huge in keeping Atlanta’s 1-2 All-star punch of Al Horford and Paul Millsap from running away with the game in November.
“Both of those guys are really good players,” Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We definitely have to step up and do a better job on them throughout the series because they are a big part, a big part of what Atlanta wants to do every game.”
In the November win as well as is the case for Game 2 on Tuesday, Avery Bradley won’t play and is most likely done for the rest of the series following a strained right hamstring injury suffered in the fourth quarter of Boston’s 102-101 Game 1 loss.
Both Celtics head coach Brad Stevens and Atlanta counterpart Mike Budenholzer downplayed the significance of the Celtics’ win in November, pointing out how both teams have undergone changes since then.
“We reviewed it more in chunks, more in situationals,” Budenholzer said. “I know they killed us on the offensive boards. Other than that, looking at that game, we were more looking at how to guard different actions, different situations. The game on a whole was a long time ago.”
True, but it may hold the keys to what Boston has to do in order to tie this series up, a series that may require the Celtics to go big if they are to go home for Games 3 and 4 with this first round series even.