Celtics

It's one game for Rondo

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It's one game for Rondo

Well, Czar Stern finally ruled on the Rajon Rondo case, and in then end, merely confirmed what we assumed all along.

Tomorrow night in Atlanta, the C's will be without their starting point guard. In reality, they'll probably be without their entire starting backcourt from the beginning of the season (and the last four playoff runs), as Ray Allen continues to work towards a return but doesn't seem to have made much progress.

This leaves the Celtics with Avery Bradley, Keyon Dooling and E'Twaun Moore as the only natural guards available for tomorrow's game (again, this is assuming Ray doesn't go), with swingers Mickael Pietrus and Sasha Pavlovic available to eaten up some time at the two spot.

It's an obviously awful predicament for the C's, who had their hands full even when Rondo was active. His absence creates a huge play making void one that won't be filled by Bradley and puts more pressure on Paul Pierce to create and dictate the offense. Given Pierce's poor performance in Game 1, and his recent physical issues, is Pierce ready to carry the extra load?

The answer may determine whether the C's fly back to Boston riding high off an upset win, or crawl back in an 0-2 hole, needing a win to effectively save their season. But in the meantime, let me just say this: Thank God for Avery Bradley's emergence.

Sure, he didn't bring his "A" Game last night, and appeared affected by the atmosphere in his maiden playoff voyage. And sure, he's definitely much better as the yin to Rondo's yang, as opposed to handling the yang all on his own. But if not for his arrival as a viable NBA player, the Celtics would be lost tomorrow. In terms of depth, speed and athleticism; having another guy who can bring up the ball and run a reasonable fast break. Bradley's their only reliable option. And as far as this season goes, he really came out of no where.

With every passing day, the Celtics more thankful that he did.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Hawks in Atlanta. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”