Watch It! – Game 3 - Hawks at Celtics

Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks meet at 8 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.

Lineup Shift

Brad Stevens was asked Thursday afternoon whether or not he’s considering a lineup change. He answered with a vague, “Yes.” He was then asked if he had made any decisions regarding a possible change, and he answered vaguely again, saying, “Not yet.”

Realistically, there are only three changes the coach is considering. First, he could start Evan Turner instead of Marcus Smart. Second, he could start a shooter like R.J. Hunter instead of Smart or Turner. Third, he could move Amir Johnson to center and start any combination of Smart, Turner and Hunter.

The most likely scenario is the latter, seeing as that’s how Boston started the second half of Game 2. Stevens removed Jared Sullinger from the starting group and ran with a fivesome of Isaiah Thomas, Smart, Turner, Jae Crowder and Johnson.

What Needs to Change?

Something other than the lineup will need to change for Boston tonight. Shuffling players into different roles isn’t going to set the offense on fire, and that’s exactly what the Celtics need.

Boston’s offense was brutally inefficient during Game 2. Its top shooting quarter of the game was the second quarter, when it made 45.5 percent of its shots. The team shot 31.8 percent overall during the game.

Something will need to change within Boston’s offense tonight, outside of simply connecting on more shots. It could be more post-up plays, as was covered Thursday. It could be more of an emphasis on transition play. Or it could be something else. One way or another, the Celtics are going to need to get creative to find ways to put the ball through the basket without Avery Bradley and likely Kelly Olynyk.

Concentrate on Defense

All of the talk surrounding Boston’s play has to do with offense. Here’s a suggestion: don’t forget about the defense. After all, defense wins championships, right?

Boston scored only seven points during the first quarter of Game 2 but stayed within striking distance because of the way it played at the other end of the court. Atlanta managed to shoot only 40.9 percent from the field during the first quarter and made only 39.0 percent of its shots on the night.

The Celtics want to turn things around in regard to their first-quarter play, but it all starts with their defense. That’s where they need to play at a high level, and if they do, the odds say that the offense will follow suit.

Hawks Searching, Too

Atlanta heads into tonight’s game with a 2-0 series lead. Such would make a casual fan assume that the Hawks are playing at a much higher level than Boston, but they’ve had their struggles as well.

As noted in the above segment, Atlanta made only 39.0 percent of its shots during Game 2. That performance came after the Hawks made only 40.7 percent of their shots during a slim 102-101 win in Game 1.

The Hawks are up 2-0, but they’d be the first to admit that they haven’t yet come close to playing their best basketball during this series.

Need Some Home Cookin’

Philips Arena isn’t exactly known as the most intimidating arena in the league, but when any crowd – including Atlanta’s – has a reason to cheer in the Playoffs it can make some serious noise. The Hawks faithful were no exception.

Atlanta’s crowd certainly played a role in Games 1 and 2 when the Hawks made big runs and big plays. Now its time for Boston’s crowd to do the same, and then some.

The Boston faithful have been waiting nine days to see their Celtics take the parquet. The last time they were in the Garden, the C’s pulled off a miraculous comeback during the season finale that had the city rocking. There’s no doubt that the building will be oozing energy tonight, and the hope is that such a fact will push Boston to its first win in the series.


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