After another brutally slow start, the Celtics managed to claw their way back into last night’s game and might have stolen it had Avery Bradley not gone down with a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter. That of course is just optimism from a Celtics fan’s point of view.
The C’s were awful in the first half. They shot an abysmal 23 percent in the first half, including going 2-16 from deep. That simply cannot happen. They had zero fast break points. They have to break this habit of coming out of the gates slow or this series will be over in four.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens orchestrated the comeback by playing a three-guard lineup for much of the second half. This lineup provided a much needed spark on the offensive end, and their perimeter defense improved. but it left the Celtics extremely vulnerable in the paint. Al Horford put up 24 and 12 and killed the Celtics during the second half, scoring easy bucket after easy bucket. On the other end of the court, the Celtics never really established themselves in the paint. Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson were no-shows. This can’t happen again, especially with Bradley’s injury.
If Bradley is unavailable next game and going forward, Stevens will need to lean on his bigs more than he’d probably like to. They can still use Turner in Bradley’s guard spot, but Turner isn’t nearly as good of a shooter or defender. So I’d personally like to see Brad use a more traditional lineup and try to work through their big men more, especially after getting SMOKED in the paint 52 points to 36.
Surprisingly, Kelly Olynyk only logged 12 minutes. Olynyk isn’t the best defender either so again, I can see why he wasn’t the first guy Stevens thought of when getting pounded in the paint, but offensively I think he would have been a much better option to shoot one of those threes in the final two minutes than Jerebko or Smart.
So while my prediction of Olynyk being the X-factor was clearly wrong in Game 1, I still think the Celtics are a better team when he is playing well and I still think he is the X-factor in the series. However with Bradley down, Smart seems to be the next man up at the guard position. So much of the Celtics success in the remainder of this series will fall on his shoulders. He should be up for the challenge.
Smart oozed confidence in the second half and hit a couple big threes down the stretch for the Celtics. While he isn’t a very good three-point shooter, he sometimes hits big shots when the Celtics need him most, which is always a plus. Let’s hope he can build off of last night’s performance for Game 2.
Horford, Millsap, and Teague all had great games which was expected. The Celtics managed to hold Kyle Korver to just two points which would have been huge had they not allowed Kent Bazemore to double his season average and drop 23 points. That just can’t happen. For whatever reason, the Celtics have formed a habit of letting opposing teams role players fill up the stat sheet against them. Mike Scott is another example of this. He managed to score 14 off the bench giving Atlanta a big lift.
Then there was Isaiah Thomas. His 27 points look great in the box score, but it really doesn’t represent the game he had. He started slow and only managed to shoot 38% from the field. So while his 27 points was great for the C’s, he needs to be more efficient going forward in order to put the Celtics in a position to win from the very beginning of the game.
Even if Bradley isn’t available for the rest of the series, I’ll stick to my C’s in six prediction. The Celtics have three days to let that loss really sink in and fester. They need to get after it Tuesday and come out with more tenacity from the get-go in Game 2.