Atlanta Hawks

All eyes on the Celtics bench

All eyes on the Celtics bench

BOSTON –  We are in the final week of the regular season and the Boston Celtics are in unfamiliar terrain.

They have three games remaining, none of which will have any bearing on what their playoff seeding will be.

Toronto locked up the top seed in the East, with Boston securing the next best thing as the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.

Playing games this time of year with no playoff implications?

“Weird” is how Brad Stevens describe before adding, “yeah. I mean it’s strange.”

It may create some unusual, seldom-seen lineups, to test some of that stuff out now is a blessing for a Celtics franchise that has been dealing with significant injuries to key players all season.

It began with Gordon Hayward’s dislocated left ankle injury just five minutes into the season, and included most recently Kyrie Irving undergoing season-ending surgery on his left knee to address an infection.

So for Boston, bench play becomes an even bigger deal than usual.

“It always is, playoffs or regular season,” Boston’s Shane Larkin told NBC Sports Boston. “But with all the guys we have out, it’ll be huge for us. It’s an opportunity for the next man to step up, something we’ve been doing all season.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 112-106 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

 

BIRD READY TO SOAR

People unfamiliar with Jabari Bird don’t realize coming out of high school, he was a top-20 prospect nationally. But injuries more than anything else, made him someone high on potential but limited when it came to actual production at Cal. So what we’re seeing now is a healthy Jabari Bird who has been impressive each of the last two games, prompting some to wonder if the Celtics will try and find a way to keep Bird, signed to a two-way contract, around for a spot on the team’s playoff roster. Two-way players aren’t eligible for the playoffs but teams can sign them to a regular NBA contract if they have a roster spot. The Celtics don’t have one now, but may seriously consider waiving a player (Abdel Nader?) to create room to sign Bird.

BACKUP POINT GUARD?

Injuries and illnesses have weakened the Celtics backcourt this season, putting even more pressure on them getting whoever their backup point guard is, quality reps. It looks like it’ll be Shane Larkin who is gradually getting back to playing after missing a couple games with flu-like symptoms that were bad enough to where he had to be hospitalized. In the loss to Atlanta, Larkin was just 2-for-9 shooting with six points but he dished out seven assists with just one turnover.

CALLING AGGRESSIVE AL

Al Horford knew he was going to play limited minutes on Sunday. And to his credit he made the most of them to finish with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists in just under 27 minutes. He was more assertive in looking for his own shot, which was a good sign to see with the playoffs so close.

MOOSE ON THE LOOSE

Greg Monroe is playing some of his best basketball of the season, and he’s doing at the perfect time. In Boston’s last three games, Monroe has averaged 17.7 points, seven rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 72 percent (19-for-25) from the field. Against the Hawks he had 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting.

POINTS OFF TURNOVERS

This is one of those categories you worry about going into the playoffs with lots of new faces unfamiliar with the pressure of the playoffs, and the poise required to survive. Boston averages 15.4 points off turnovers while rendering an identical figure in points allowed off of turnovers. But against the Hawks, Atlanta got 24 points off of Boston’s miscues while the Celtics could only recover 15 points off of Atlanta turnovers. And while it would be easy to dismiss the numbers based on Boston sitting all but one starter (Aron Baynes) in the fourth, remember this: Boston turned the ball over four times in the fourth for eight points. So for the first three quarters, Boston had turned the ball over eight times for 16 points which is the same turnover-to-points allowed ratio we saw in the fourth.

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Ojeleye impresses, but Prince and Hawks too much for C's

Ojeleye impresses, but Prince and Hawks too much for C's

BOSTON – Semi Ojeleye has made his mark at the defensive end of the floor this season for the Celtics. 

But as we saw in Boston’s 112-106 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the 6-foot-7 Ojeleye can get buckets, too. 

He came off the Celtics bench to score a season-high 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field, doing his part to give the Celtics a shot at winning in the game’s closing moments. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens kept all his starters except Aron Baynes on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, affording players like Ojeleye a shot at getting crunch time minutes.

“That was the point of playing guys that we don’t usually play late,” Stevens said. “And I thought some guys did some really good things.”

Among them, was Ojeleye. 

“I thought Semi was obviously playing with a lot of confidence on the offensive end, which we need him to, to continue to soar with what he does best,” Stevens said. “But, you know, be able to take advantage of defenses that are really helping off of him.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 112-106 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. 

 

STARS

Taurean Prince: It has been a disappointing season for the Atlanta Hawks, for sure. But one of the bright spots has been the play of Prince who led all scorers with 33 points on 12-for-17 shooting along with eight rebounds and five assists. 

Jayson Tatum: Having Friday night off was a good thing for Tatum, who returned to action on Sunday looking revived on several fronts. He led the Celtics with 19 points in just three quarters of work (head coach Brad Stevens did not play his starters in the fourth quarter) on 8-for-12 shooting with four steals.

 

STUDS

Al Horford: His usually strong defense was anchored with a solid game scoring the ball. Horford tallied 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds and four assists. 

Isaiah Taylor: He scored 13 points off the bench which included a driving lay-up with 25.6 seconds to play that put Atlanta up by four, 110-106.

Semi Ojeleye: Known primarily for his defense, Ojeleye was uber-aggressive offensively before finishing with a career-high 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting to go with six rebounds.   

Greg Monroe: Moose continues to come up big for the Celtics in terms of scoring around the rim. He had 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting in addition to four assists. 

 

DUDS

Aron Baynes: He was never able to get into any kind of rhythm, missing six of his seven shot attempts before finishing with two points and three rebounds.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics fail to finish off Hawks in 112-106 loss

Celtics fail to finish off Hawks in 112-106 loss

BOSTON – The starting five Boston trotted out for Sunday afternoon’s matchup with the Atlanta Hawks will likely be the first unit the Celtics go with when the playoffs begin next weekend. 

But as we’ve seen often with the Celtics, their bench has been known to rescue them from the jaws of defeat. 

Today was not one of those times as Boston’s bench could not hold on to the lead established by the first unit as the Atlanta Hawks rallied for a 112-106 win. 

The Celtics led 99-92 in the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by Semi Ojeleye, only to allow the Hawks to close out the game with an 20-7 run. 

Boston had multiple chances in the closing seconds to make it a one-possession game, with none easier than the uncontested lay-up missed by Shane Larkin with about 11 or so seconds to play. 

The Celtics would get no closer as the Hawks (24-57) escaped with a rare win in Boston.

Boston (54-26) began the game with the kind of strong play the Celtics were hoping would carry them all game.

After exchanging one miss for another in the game’s first few minutes, the Celtics found their groove courtesy of a 7-2 spurt that put them ahead 11-5.

Boston’s primary scoring early on was Jayson Tatum who had seven of Boston’s first 11 points. He led the Celtics with 19 points.

Having sat out Boston’s previous game, a home win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday, Tatum looked like a revived and refreshed player early on. 

And he soon had company, with Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier all stepping up to contribute to Boston starting to put some distance between itself and the Hawks. Horford had 16 points and seven rebounds. Brown had 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting while Rozier finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.

Boston would end the first quarter with a comfortable 31-24 lead, fueled by a starting unit with each player having a plus/minus of at least +7 in the quarter.

Like Boston, Atlanta has also had a significantly high number of injuries to key players.

But what their current team lacks in talent, they try as best they can to make up for it in effort. 

And that effort kept them within striking distance most of the first half which ended with the Celtics leading 58-49 after two quarters of play. 

Like the first quarter, there were no Boston starters with a plus/minus in the negative. 

Taurean Prince, one of the few regulars for the Hawks playing, was a major problem for Boston with 15 points which included a trio of 3’s. He led all players with 33 points.

Boston had a more balanced attack, with former Hawk Al Horford giving his former team the business to the tune of 14 first-half points to go with six rebounds and two assists.

In the third quarter, the Celtics continued to keep the Hawks at a distance, but nothing remotely close to blowing them away. 

Prince continued his red-hot shooting while Boston continued to counter with a more balanced attack with contributions coming from several players. 

And his 3-pointer with about two minutes to play cut Boston’s lead down to 73-71, only for Boston’s Terry Rozier to come back with a 3-pointer moments later. 

The third quarter ended with the Celtics clinging to a 82-76 lead.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE