Watch It! - 76ers at Celtics
Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight night at Philips Arena.
Rajon Rondo tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Jan. 25, 2013 in Atlanta. He’ll make his return to that very same court at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Rondo, who was sidelined for 51 weeks due to the injury, will start at point guard for the Celtics when they take on the Hawks tonight. He will be playing in his first game since Friday night, when he recorded his first triple-double of the season with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists. Coincidentally, the last time Rondo recorded a triple-double was the night he tore that ACL, during a 123-111 double-overtime loss to Atlanta.
There is sure to be a moment of reflection for Boston’s captain when he takes the court tonight. Let’s hope that the moment will be brief and that Rondo can push the Celtics to a victory with another strong performance.
Bradley, Sullinger Expected To Play
The injury bug bit the Celtics last week, causing Avery Bradley (right Achilles tendinitis) to miss three games and Kris Humphries (sore right knee) to miss one. Additionally, Jared Sullinger suffered a bruised thigh during Saturday night’s loss in Detroit that lingered into the early days of this week.
Fortunately for the Celtics, two of those players are expected to be available in Atlanta. Bradley participated in Boston’s practices on Monday and Tuesday, while Sullinger returned to the practice court for Tuesday’s session. Brad Stevens told reporters on Tuesday that both players “should be good to go” against the Hawks. Humphries, meanwhile, remains sidelined and is expected to undergo an MRI exam today.
The expected presence of Bradley and Sullinger in Boston’s lineup is a big one. Bradley should start at shooting guard, giving the C’s solid depth at the position considering how well Jerryd Bayless has been playing of late. Sullinger is coming off of a double-double and is averaging 19.0 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game this month. He should start at center with Humphries sidelined.
Millsap Matters for Atlanta
Atlanta’s lone All-Star this season, Paul Millsap, is certainly playing like one of late. Millsap is averaging 19.8 PPG on 55.0 percent shooting to go along with 11.3 RPG this month. He’s coming off of a 24-point, 12-rebound game against the Pistons last night.
Boston hasn’t had to deal with his abilities since Dec. 31, when it got a first-hand look at how much of a star he really is. Millsap scored 34 points and grabbed 15 rebounds that day to lead the Hawks to a 92-91 victory over the C’s. Millsap missed the last meeting between these two teams due to a right knee contusion.
When Millsap plays well, Atlanta typically wins. When he doesn’t play well, the Hawks typically lose. Millsap has averaged 18.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG and shot 50.0 percent from the field during 33 victories, and 17.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG and hit 42.7 percent of his shots during 38 defeats.
Hawks Need This Game
Every game matters for the Hawks right now. They are attempting to hold off the Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta currently holds a 1.5-game lead over New York for that final spot in the postseason. Tuesday night’s loss to the struggling Pistons certainly didn’t help the team’s cause, putting even more importance on tonight’s matchup.
The Hawks absolutely need to win this game. Their next three games are against playoff teams that are playing very good basketball right now. A loss tonight could wind up costing them a playoff spot.
Defense is the Key
There is one common key to Boston and Atlanta’s individual success: defense. Unfortunately for both squads, they haven’t played much of it of late.
The Celtics are currently mired in an eight-game losing streak during which they’ve allowed opponents to score 107.9 PPG. Those opponents have also shot 51.0 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from 3-point range.
Things haven’t been much better for the Hawks. They’ve gone 9-22 since Feb. 4, and opponents have scored an average of 105.0 on 48.1 percent shooting during those 22 losses.
Neither of these teams have been playing very effective defense. They’ll need to improve dramatically at that end of the court if they want to grab a win tonight.