Arbella Game 2 Preview: Celtics at Hawks
ATLANTA – The Boston Celtics (0-1) found out on Monday evening that they’ll need to win Game 2 against the Atlanta Hawks (1-0) without the services of Rajon Rondo.
Rondo, who has been suspended by the NBA for one game, will not be on the floor with his teammates when the ball goes up at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Philips Arena.
Fortunately for Boston, it found out relatively quickly that it will be without its All-Star point guard. News broke to the public at about 5 p.m. Monday evening, but the Celtics had been preparing all along as if they would be without Rondo. They were also able to get in a shootaround this morning with Avery Bradley running the point.
“The one thing I was happy with was how quickly they did it. I thought that was great… Usually they wait until the day of,” said Doc Rivers at Tuesday’s shootaround. “Historically, it’s been after shootaround and you get back to the hotel and you get the information that a guy’s not playing. I think that was one of the complaints I know a lot of the guys had, and to me, the fact that they did it early enough for us – it was after practice, but at least it gave us enough time to prepare for it in shootaround.”
While all of the attention is being placed on Rondo’s absence, the fact of the matter is that the Celtics must find a way to grab a win tonight. Heading back to Boston in an 0-2 hole would put them in a bind that they certainly don’t want to be in. To tie this series up, Boston will need to increase its execution dramatically in comparison to its performance in Game 1.
Rivers seemed very upset with his team’s performance when he took to the podium after Sunday night’s loss. He did not like the team’s execution on offense, particularly with ball movement, and he was peeved by the defensive performance in the first quarter.
The remedy for the offense is relatively simple: Boston needs to pass the ball better. As Rivers alluded to after Sunday’s game, the Celtics aren’t equipped to win basketball games if they aren’t sharing the basketball at the offensive end of the floor.
“We need to do a better job as a group to move the ball and get to the second option,” Rivers said Sunday night. “I thought we were a first-option team and a same-side-of-the-floor team for most of the game. And we’re not going to win a lot of games playing like that.”
Boston moved the ball so well this season that it ranked second in the NBA with an average of 23.6 assists a night. That’s a season’s worth of numbers to show us that the likelihood of them not moving the ball again tonight is fairly low.
While the offense is likely to straighten itself out with more ball movement, fixing the defense might prove to be a more difficult challenge, particularly because of Josh Smith. Smith was the best player on the floor Sunday night when he notched 22 points and 18 rebounds.
In Rivers’ opinion, the Celtics need to make Smith score in the half-court tonight against a set defense.
“His jumper was falling, but I thought a lot of them were early, too,” Rivers said. “I thought he got us again, we didn’t set our defense. We didn’t contest a lot of shots of his. We have to contest shots, but I thought a lot of that was because we were scrambling in cross-matchups.”
The attention tonight will be placed on Boston’s ability to withstand the absence of Rondo and its ability to slow down Smith’s offense. A successful night in both of those categories could lead to a critical win for the Celtics on the road.
Handling the Pressure
Bradley was playing in the first playoff game of his career in Game 1, and you could tell. He was rushing and shot just 4-of-12 in the game. The pressure of playing in his first playoff game is not off of his shoulders, but Bradley will now need to handle physical ball pressure from the Hawks when he’s playing point guard tonight.
“Do what he does to us,” Josh Smith said Tuesday morning of Atlanta’s game plan for defending Bradley. “He’s one of the great defenders in this league at a young age, and just see if he likes it a little bit, picking him up full-court, turning him a little bit and making it hard for him to initiate the offense a little bit.”
Bradley’s ability to handle that pressure will be a critical factor in this game. Paul Pierce and others will also get an opportunity to bring the ball up the court, but Bradley will be the primary option.
Who Will Step Up
It’s been a recurring situation for the Celtics all season long: Someone goes out and someone else needs to step in. Tonight, Boston will need one of its players to step in and deliver a solid performance off the bench with Rondo out of the lineup.
One man who’s confident in his ability to step up in this situation is Keyon Dooling. He played six minutes in Game 1 and Rivers called his performance “great.” Dooling is a seasoned veteran who never seems to be rattled. He understands how Playoff games work, because he’s been there and done that.
“The Playoff game is definitely different from the regular season,” Dooling said. “It’s a possession-by-possession, an inch-by-inch game, and I’m prepared to fight every inch. I know I can do it. I’ve done it before.”
Fast-break points aren’t always an indication of how well a team scores in transition. Game 1 was evidence of such.
Atlanta recorded just 10 fast-break points in the contest – one less than the Celtics – but its transition offense is what worries Rivers. The Hawks opened up the series with a fast-break basket and were able to catch the Celtics in bad matchups throughout the remainder of the night. As Rivers has stated over the past couple of days, that can’t happen in Game 2.
“We have to get back. We were awful in transition,” Rivers said before Tuesday’s shootaround. “They scored the first bucket of the game (in transition). So we have to be better in transition. We have to force them to play against our half-court defense.”