Do Athletic Teams Like the Atlanta Hawks Pose Problems for the Boston Celtics?
Monday’s Celtics game will be the second match up against the Atlanta Hawks in four nights. In their two losses to the Hawks this season the Celtics were out-hustled, out-played and possibly even out-coached. This third match-up shouldn’t make or break the Celtics season, but it should say a lot about the state of the team and what we might expect from them for the remainder of the year and into the playoffs.
The Celtics have played well over the last five games (3-2), even in the absence of Kevin Garnett. With or without Garnett, however, the Celtics have struggled with up-tempo teams like the Suns, Clippers, Warriors and Heat.
In Friday’s loss in Atlanta (another high-energy team) one thing was clear: the Celtics looked tired. Without Tony Allen and with a quiet Rajon Rondo, there was little get-up-and-go from this team.
Statistically, it is difficult to break down what went wrong for the Celtics on Friday. They matched up with Atlanta in almost every offensive and defensive category. The most important difference was in bench points.
The Celtics only mustered 12 points from the bench, forcing the starters to average exactly 40 minutes between them. The Hawks, on the other hand, got 22 points from their bench including a game changing 18 points (14 in the fourth quarter) from Jamal Crawford. With this help, the Hawks' starting-five averaged just over 36 minutes for the game. Young, fresh legs caused problems for the Celtics in transition offense and defense.
The fact that Monday’s rematch in Boston is the second night of a back-to-back (the Celtics beat the mediocre Raptors in Toronto 114-107 on Sunday afternoon) adds a nice playoff-like wrinkle to the game.
If the Celtics fail to match the energy of the Hawks, and if the bench cannot give the starters a few extra minutes to breathe, it would be difficult to imagine the Celtics taking a best of seven series, even with home court advantage.
Now, if you believe that Kevin Garnett will be back at full-strength before the playoffs, this game means very little to you and your Celtics. But if you’re concerned that KG won’t be back at 100 percent (or at all), and you’re thinking that the team needs a rested starting five and added points from the bench, well, this might be the biggest game for your Celtics before the All-Star break.