Hawks not giving Celtics anything in the paint


Hawks not giving Celtics anything in the paint

ATLANTA – Dikembe Mutombo had a courtside seat for Game 2 of the Boston-Atlanta playoff game.

But you would have thought the former Hawks shot-blocking specialist was on the floor when you see how the Hawks were swatting shots all over the floor (and stands) to the tune of a Hawks playoff-franchise record of 15 blocked shots.

Before you think that it was just a fluke consider this:

During the regular season, the Hawks were fourth in the NBA with 5.9 blocks per game.

But to put Atlanta’s block party in perspective, they are facing a Celtics team that has seen more than their share of shots pinned on the glass or swatted away this season.

According to NBA.com/stats, the Celtics had 5.5 of their shots blocked per game this season which was tied for the seventh-worst in the NBA.

Although the playoffs are still young, Boston has had 12 of its shots blocked in the two playoff games against Atlanta – more than any other team in the playoffs.

Hawks center Al Horford said the blocks had a lot to do with players being where they needed to be at that time to make the play.

“I feel like we’re in better position defensively to be able to make plays,” said Horford who had five blocks of his own in Game 2. “The first two games we’ve been successful at that.”

Horford attributes it to being part of the team’s emphasis on being their best defensively.

In addition to ranking fourth in blocked shots per game during the regular season, the Hawks had the league’s second-best defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 98.8 which trailed only San Antonio’s 96.6.

As good as the Hawks were defensively during the regular season, they have been even better in the two playoff games against Boston.

Atlanta’s defensive rating in the playoffs is 84.5 which ranks third in the NBA behind Oklahoma City (80.8) and San Antonio (78.6).

“I feel our defense has answered this challenge in the postseason,” Horford said.

And that success defensively has in part been fueled by the team’s across-the-board block party.

Coming into this series, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer knew his team’s ability to defend the paint whether it be by way of coverage or blocking shots, would be an integral part of his team’s chances of winning this series.

And while one might wonder if Isaiah Thomas being 5-9 has helped Atlanta get a higher-than-usual blocked shot count, Budenholzer said the blocked shots have more to do with his team having a renewed focus on exceling in that particular phase of the game.

“We’re trying to stress being active, we’re trying to stress how important it is to take away points in the paint, points at the basket,” Budenholzer said. “Isaiah Thomas is very clever, very crafty getting to the paint and finishing in the paint. He can score all the different levels. But if we can make it hard for him there, including not fouling him, that has been an emphasis. I don’t think it’s a matchup, just an emphasis.”

Irving, Brown out again for Celtics tonight vs. Thunder

Irving, Brown out again for Celtics tonight vs. Thunder

BOSTON – The injury report remains the same for the Celtics who will enter tonight’s game against Oklahoma City with a roster that remains shorthanded.

In addition to Gordon Hayward (left ankle) who has been out all season, joining him on the inactive list tonight are Jaylen Brown (NBA concussion protocol); Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness); Marcus Smart (right thumb sprain) and Daniel Theis (out for season after left knee meniscal tear surgery).

Only Irving and Brown are expected to return in the near future. Theis has his season-ending surgery last week, the Celtics continue to insist Hayward won't play this season and Smart has a shot at returning at some point in the playoffs as early as the latter stages of the first round or early in the second.


Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

BOSTON – With the NBA playoffs looming, this is a tricky time of year for most of the league’s playoff-bound teams. 

Both players and coaches want to head into the postseason well-rested. 

But they also want to be in a good playing rhythm.

MORE - OKC not taking shorthanded C's for granted

Injuries have forced the Boston Celtics to sit some players who are likely to be able to play (and well-rested) when the playoffs. 

And tonight’s foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are in a similar situation as well. 

“It's something you're walking a tightrope on all the time, where a guy is really rested but you've taken him out of rhythm,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “The biggest thing is, there's gotta be communication between the players and the medical staff, coaches, of where guys are, what they need.

Donovan added, “I think rest this time of year would help any player, but there's a balance between maybe getting too much rest and maybe getting out of rhythm. The players are always walking that line during the course of the year, because you kind of get into a rhythm of playing every other day, you get into that, and then there's a back to back here or there, and you get three games in four nights, but yeah. You try to best as you can with your players, help them balance that the best they can.”

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook can see how some players might need to strike a balance between getting enough rest late in the season while maintaining a good playing rhythm.  

So, I asked him which is his preference?

“I prefer to play,” he said. “Rhythm and all that (expletive), it’s in your mind.”

For Westbrook, maybe so. 

But it is very real to a number of players in the NBA, among them being his teammate and fellow All-Star Paul George. 

“If you know why you’re in the gym and the work you’re getting, you lock in,” George said. “You prepare, get your work done. And you get off your legs, get off our feet and get your rest. It’s easy to balance the two when you know what exactly you’re doing and you know exactly what you need to do.”

Boston has worked to strike that balance with Kyrie Irving all season.

That’s why the five-time All-Star is averaging 24.4 points per game which is 11th in the league. However, he’s doing it in 32.2 minutes which ranks 55th in the league in minutes played per game. 

Lately, Irving has gotten more time off than he would like as he deals with a sore left knee that has kept him sidelined for the Celtics’ last three games. 

It doesn’t appear to be something that will limit him now.

However, having him sit out games now increases the likelihood that he’ll be ready to roll at or near full strength, when the playoffs arrive. 

Boston is also playing without Jaylen Brown who suffered a concussion when he fell on his back following a dunk at Houston on March 3. He is expected to return at some point between now and the end of the regular season which could be a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-7 Brown who will be called upon to not only remain Boston’s next-best scoring option to Kyrie Irving, but also defend at a high level. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that they have given thought to how to find that happy medium between resting guys while ensuring as best they can, that players will be refreshed for the playoffs. 

“We haven’t been in that situation very often, where we choose to do rest except for that stretch in December when we rested Al (Horford),” Stevens said. “But everything else has kind of happened organically with guys being dinged up or whatever the case may be. I think that’s … we’ll probably be in a situation where we will continue to have those discussions.”