Celtics

Peverley in, Hamill out; Thomas gets the start

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Peverley in, Hamill out; Thomas gets the start

DALLAS After missing twogames wrapped around the holiday break, Rich Peverley will be back in the Bs lineup Saturday night against the Dallas Stars after making it through morning skate at American Airlines Center.

Peverley said afterward hes come to grips with the fact hell be managing the nagging undisclosed situation for the entirety of the season, but is looking forward to jumping back with Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot. Zach Hamill has played well since coming up to Boston and filling in for Peverley in the lineup, but Hamill will hit the bench as a healthy scratch to make room on the third line.

Claude Julien hinted that Hamills fate in Boston or Providence will be one of the first topics of conversation when the Bs get back to Boston, but the versatile rookie forward has certainly proved he can step in and contribute when needed.

Peverley is ready to go and felt good this morning and yesterday. Hes been going as scheduled and hes as good as hes going to be, said Julien. When we get back from the trip Hamill is something that were going to look at. He had earned the right to play and stay in the lineup, but now we have Peverley back. So Hamill will be out tonight, but hes continued to play well.

Whether we choose to let him play and continue to develop down below in Providence or whether we decide he stays here, a lot will depend on a discussion between the coaches and upper management. Im sure that discussion will be coming soon.

Tim Thomas was the first goaltender off the ice during morning skate as well, and will get his first start since backstopping the Bruins to a win over the Montreal Canadiens 11 days ago in Boston. Here are the projected lineups:

Marchand-Bergeron-Seguin
Lucic-Krejci-Horton
Pouliot-Kelly-Peverley
Paille-Campbell-Thornton

Chara-Boychuk
Seidenberg-Corvo
Ference-McQuaid

Thomas Rask

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.”