Celtics-Hawks Game 3 preview: Time for a fast start


Celtics-Hawks Game 3 preview: Time for a fast start

BOSTON – The narrative for this Boston-Atlanta series thus far has been the Hawks build a fat cushion in the first half that the Celtics chip away at, but never enough to come away with a victory.

Well, heading into Game 3, the Celtics are looking to author a different chapter in this first-round matchup, one that results in their first win of the series.

“Every game is a little different, brings its own story to it,” said Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas. “Play like you know how. We know we have to start better. One thing we gotta do is stop talking about it and be about it and just play.”

The Celtics’ early struggles have been an issue even near the end of the regular season, but was masked by the fact that the playoffs were around the corner which would allow them an opportunity to reset and get back to playing well to start games.

That has not been the case, with the Celtics trailing by an average of 14 points after the first quarter.

It has been a stark scoring contrast for Boston, which averaged 26.2 points per game in the first quarter during the regular season, which ranked 9th in the NBA.

That’s equal to the amount of points Boston has scored in the first quarter of Games 1 and 2 combined.

“It seems like we’re a step slow to everything,” said Boston’s Jared Sullinger. “It’s like we gotta get punched in the mouth before we start playing the way we need to play.”

But that’s not what’s happening.

In the first two games of this series, the Hawks were delivering blow after blow to the point where the Celtics were seemingly hanging on to dear life … and it wasn’t even halftime yet with the Hawks pulling ahead by 20-plus points in the first half of Games 1 and 2.

This isn’t the first time that the Celtics have had a quarter in which they really struggled to generate offense.

But as head coach Brad Stevens pointed out, the frustrating part isn’t that it has happened in the past.

“The frustrating part is it’s happened the last two (games),” Stevens said. “We’ve got to be better at the start. It’s not going to just be about the first six minutes. We have to play well throughout the whole 48 (minutes).”

But that has been among the many elusive dynamics of this series thus far. If you were to take out the first quarter of this series, Boston outscored Atlanta in Game 1 (82-72) and played them even (65-65) in Game 2.

The Celtics are finding that the Hawks are not nearly as easy to come back and defeat as some of their regular season foes like the Miami Heat, who led the Celtics by as many as 26 points in their regular season finale only for Boston to come back and win 98-88.

“We got away with one against Miami,” Sullinger said. “But we can’t keep doing that. What we did against Miami was a fluke. We got them on a back to back. And on top of that, it was the last game of the season so we don’t know what type of mindset they had coming into the game. We have to change it around and understand first quarter starts are very important for us.”

Stevens will try and do his part to better position the Celtics to make shots in the first. But no amount of X’s and O’s can account for guys just not making open shots which has been a bigger culprit than Atlanta’s defense as to why Boston has struggled so mightily scoring the ball.

In Games 1 and 2 the Celtics shot 36.3 and 31.8 percent, respectively, from the field.

“We got guys that can knock down shots,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier who had a career-high 10 points in Game 2. “You at this level, I feel if you’re a pro, you should be able to knock down an open shot at least. We’ve been struggling. It happens to a lot of teams. That’s why we’re in here now getting up a lot of shots.”

Hurting Boston’s shooting efforts has been the absence of Avery Bradley, the team’s No. 2 scorer who averaged a career-high 15.2 points per game this season. He suffered a strained right hamstring injury near the end of Game 1, and he’s expected to miss the remainder of this series.

Boston’s plans to improve their shooting in Game 3 may suffer another blow if Kelly Olynyk (right shoulder) is unable to play. He did not suit up for Game 2 because of the injury. Head coach Brad Stevens said the 7-foot center was questionable “at best” for tonight’s game.

No Olynyk is a huge blow because of his ability to help with spacing. And remember, Boston’s lone win over the Hawks this season was a game in which Olynyk had 15 points in less than 17 minutes of court time.

The Hawks are dealing with injuries to key rotation players as well. Kent Bazemore has some right knee stiffness but team officials list him as probable.

The outlook isn’t quite as rosy for Atlanta guard Dennis Schroder, who suffered a sprained left ankle near the end of Game 2. Team officials classify him as questionable for tonight.

Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

It’s hard being an NBA fan and not thinking about the Celtics on St. Patrick’s Day.

All that green, the shamrocks and the libations that so many of us enjoy even more today than most days, it’s pretty cool and certainly something – well, for me at least – to be thankful for.

The Celtics, yeah, they got a few – quite a few - things to be thankful for as well.

So what better day to point a few of them out than the unofficial holiday of the Celtics, St. Patrick’s Day.


When Danny Ainge drafted Terry Rozier three years ago, I admit I wasn’t a believer. You had guards, Danny Ainge. What do you need another one for? Draft Sam Dekker from Wisconsin, or UVA’s Justin Anderson. Hey, that kid Bobby Portis from Arkansas looks pretty good, too.

Ainge and the Celtics took a look at all those guys and came away convinced that Rozier was the best fit for what the wanted both in the short and long-term from that draft.

While Rozier has not emerged as a star, he has shown us all more than enough to know that he’s a pretty damn good player.

And throw in the fact that the dude was born on St. Patrick’s Day - as was Ainge - how can this guy not have a little bit of luck on his side?


LeBron James’ timing has been impeccable when it comes to leaving for greener pastures. So, when Kyrie Irving let the Cavs know he wanted out of Cleveland, it took a minute to sink that they were about to be LeBron’d by someone other than LeBron. But in making his desire to be traded, Irving was giving the Cavs an opportunity to get something in return for shipping him out to who knows where. The Cavs eventually wound up with a couple of draft picks, with one being a coveted first-rounder via Brooklyn in June’s NBA draft along with a trio of players headlined by Isaiah Thomas who was still on the mend from a hip injury.

The injury took longer to heal and the Cavs wound up trading Thomas and ex-Celtic Jae Crowder to teams out West.

Today, Cleveland is treading water as a middle-of-the-pack club that has shown very few signs of late that they will be nothing more than first-round fodder for some team with deep playoff aspirations and a roster ready to make that happen.

And Irving?

He was named to his fifth All-Star team and has spent most of this season playing for a Boston team that until recently held down best record in the East and currently sits in the No. 2 spot.

Irving is dealing with a sore left knee that has limited him recently to not playing, but it doesn’t appear to be an injury that will significantly impact what he does in the postseason for a Celtics team that, despite all their injuries, still holds out hope of making a strong postseason run.


Whenever you ask Brad Stevens about his decision to leave Butler for the Celtics in the NBA, he makes it clear from the outset how difficult a decision it was for him and his family.

Just imagine if Stevens had won a national title instead of having a pair of national runner-up finishes to his name? Leading a mid-major like Butler to an NCAA title, which would have meant slaying UConn or Duke in the process? Stevens would have been more than just a big deal on the Butler campus. He would have been seen as a basketball god who would have had an even tougher time walking away from what he had helped build at Butler.

So Celtics fans, be thankful for Duke and UConn because without their national title game wins over Butler, there’s a very good chance that Brad Stevens would not be coaching the Celtics now.


Remember back in 2013 when Danny Ainge had the serious basketball man crush on Duke’s Justise Winslow, a player that he was willing to trade plenty of draft picks (reportedly as many as four first-round picks) to acquire the rights to draft?

Ainge suspected the Miami Heat would select him with the No. 10 pick, so Ainge tried to swing a deal with the Charlotte Hornets who were in the No. 9 slot.

Charlotte liked Winslow, but they were more smitten with Frank Kaminsky. Because of that, they wouldn’t do a deal with the Celtics.

Not doing that deal allowed Boston to have the kind of assets to eventually acquire Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Irving, moves that have collectively led to Boston’s surge towards the top of the NBA standings despite having the fifth-youngest team in the NBA.

Winslow, selected by the Heat with the 10th overall pick, has come nowhere close to being the impact player Miami was hoping they would get. And while Kaminsky has had some decent stretches, he too has been a bit underwhelming. Meanwhile, Boston kept its 16th overall pick and used it to select Rozier who as it turns out, has arguably been the best player among the trio.

Having a good scouting staff is important, of course.

But a little luck every now and then doesn’t hurt, either.




Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Beating one of the few teams already eliminated from the playoff race is in itself not that big a deal.

It’s called doing what you’re supposed to do.

But for these Celtics, their 92-83 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night was more than just another victory.

It was the latest installment in a season filled with teachable moments and lessons that can bolster in some fashion their chances at a deep playoff run.

While there’s no way they’re going to go far without their core guys Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, getting guys to fill in for them and still manage to win, is important in this team’s overall development in both the present and future.

No one on the Celtics’ roster can score like Irving, the league’s 11th-ranked scorer at 24.4 points per game.

Still, getting his fill-ins Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin to go for 17 and 10 points certainly helps.

And Jaylen Brown’s ability to play both ends of the floor at a high level is huge, but rookie Abdel Nader has shown he too has some potential to be a solid two-way talent.

Smart’s defense sets him apart from others, but the Celtics collectively were able to make up for that with an impressive defensive rating of 83.1 against the Orlando.

And their collective efforts serve as yet another teachable moment for the Celtics.

Here are five takeaways from a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might lead one to believe: 

There may not be another Celtic whose stock has risen more than Terry Rozier’s this season. He has become a reliable two-way talent off the bench whose capable of giving you starter-like production when needed. He had 17 points against the Magic along with seven rebounds and five assists.

With Marcus Smart (right thumb) out for the rest of the regular season, Terry Rozier in the starting lineup along with Marcus Morris, those are three really big chunks of Boston’s second unit no longer coming off the bench. The second unit players might have been different, but that didn’t affect the Celtics’ bench from impacting the game in a significant way. Against the Magic, they outscored Orlando’s backups, 39-28. 

He signed with the Boston Celtics at a time when a role for him was far from defined. His patience and Boston’s faith in him has paid for both as Larkin continues to be that utility player that Brad Stevens has leaned on at times. Larkin was solid off the bench, scoring 10 points.

This may be one of the closest Coach of the Year votes we have ever had in the NBA. Regardless how short the list may be, you can bet Brad Stevens will be on it. The way he has been positioning the Celtics to be among the last teams standing despite all the injuries they have endured this season, speaks to his ability to not just draw up X's and O’s but also his ability to develop players who when called upon to play, are more than ready for the challenge.

It’s fair to expect the Celtics are going to be short-handed for the rest of the season, which means those still around have to step their game up – Horford included.

For Horford, stepping up involves being more assertive as a scorer and not rely as much on his skills as a play-maker. We saw that from Horford on Friday, as he tallied a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds but more important, he took a game-high 18 shot attempts.