Arbella Game 4 Preview: Hawks at Celtics

Arbella Playoffs

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (2-1) are already sitting comfortable with a 2-1 series lead over the Atlanta Hawks (1-2). They can take that comfort to another level with a win over the Hawks in Game 4 at 7 p.m. tonight in TD Garden.

The Celtics didn’t play their best basketball of the postseason Friday night, but they got the win nonetheless. That victory puts them in prime position to take a stranglehold on the series if they can protect their home floor tonight.

Game 3 went to overtime despite the fact that Boston began the game with a healthy lineup and the Hawks were missing several key players. The C’s struggled offensively and at times seemed lost at that end of the floor.

Even though those facts were evident throughout the contest, Boston can’t complain about where it is right now. It is leading the series, it is playing the next game on its home floor, and maybe most importantly, it got Ray Allen back in the lineup Friday night for the first time since April 10. Allen didn’t just return to the lineup to play a minimum role, either. Instead, he was on the floor for nearly 37 minutes of action.

“Like I told you before the game – someone asked me, ‘Would there be a minute restriction?’ I said, “No, because we don’t know when he’ll play again or not,’ “ Doc Rivers said after the win. “So I’m getting everything I can get out of him each game. I’m saying that jokingly, but it’s somewhat true as well.”

The story remains the same for Allen, who is essentially going to be day-to-day throughout the postseason. No one knows how his ankle will feel by the time Sunday’s game arrives, and he told reporters after Game 3 that it felt like his ankle was “mad” at him.

Although Allen’s status is unknown, Boston might need him more in Game 4 than it did in Game 3. Avery Bradley, who supplanted Allen in the starting lineup this season, left Friday’s contest with a dislocated left shoulder. Bradley has apparently dealt with the injury all season long, according to Rivers, but this time it seems to be more troublesome. He may be able to return to the lineup for Game 4, but that will likely be a game-time decision.

While the Celtics have their starting and backup shooting guards questionable for Game 4, the Hawks aren’t in a much better situation. They’re definitely going to be playing without Al Horford, they’re probably going to be without Zaza Pachulia, and they may be without arguably their best player, Josh Smith.

Smith sprained his left knee in the final minutes of Game 2 and was sore enough on Friday to miss Game 3. He is listed as day-to-day and there hasn’t been much information leaked to the media regarding his injury. Smith could be back in the lineup, but even if he’s there, he will not be playing at anywhere near 100 percent.

With the availability of so many players up in the air, it’s almost impossible to predict the outcome of Game 4. The only thing these teams will know heading into Sunday night’s tilt is that if the Celtics grab a win, they’ll be on the verge of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Charity Points for Pierce

One consistent piece to both of Boston’s wins in this series has been Paul Pierce’s ability to get to the free-throw line. When Pierce has been given the ball in the right spots, Atlanta has had absolutely no answers for him.

Pierce shot just 3-for-12 in Friday’s Game 3 but he still led the team in scoring with 21 points. How did he do that? How about a 14-for-14 performance from the charity stripe? That perfection followed up an 11-of-13 night from the free-throw line in Game 2.

When Pierce is getting to the line that often, Boston is a difficult team to beat. Pierce is able to score easy points and it helps the rest of his teammates, too, because it gets the Celtics into the bonus.

Atlanta Needs to Share

Boston’s defense is one of the best in the league when it comes to defending as a team. The Celtics like to say that they’re “on a string” at that end of the floor and are always there to help their teammates out.

The only way to beat this great Celtics defense is to work the ball on both sides of the floor and make the extra pass. Atlanta hasn’t done that thus far in the series.

The Hawks average just 15.0 APG through three games of this series. To give you an idea of how bad that is, the worst assist team in the regular season, the Thunder, averaged 18.6 assists a night over its 66 games.

You’re not going to beat the Celtics with one-on-one play, but for the most part that’s what the Hawks have resorted to attempting. Without Josh Smith in the post, that’s the only choice Atlanta has.

Stay Loose, Reserves

The Celtics headed into Game 2 in Atlanta with several big question marks. Without Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, Boston’s bench was short and it needed little-used players to step up.

Several Celtics wound up answering the call that night, highlighted by the performances of Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels. Both of those players gave fantastic defensive efforts and put the ball through the basket in critical moments of the game.

Those two players, along with Sasha Pavlovic, need to be ready for their names to be called again tonight. With the status of Allen and Bradley being uncertain, there is a strong possibility that Rivers will need to turn somewhere else for big minutes off the bench. Boston has been able to respond in situations similar to this all season long. Game 4 might just be another example to add to the list.