Tuesday night about a half an hour before tip-off, I wrote a column that thankfully never saw the light of day online. I had gushed about how smart Brad Stevens is, how well the guys played at home in Games 3 and 4, and how there was no doubt in my mind that the Celtics would march into Atlanta and win Game 5. Boy, was I wrong.
In classic Celtics fashion, they managed to reel me back in hook, line, and sinker, after I had mentally and emotionally checked out of the Playoffs after Games 1 and 2. Two convincing and spirited wins in Boston was all it took to jump back on the bandwagon. Then Game 5 happened. That sound you now hear are people jumping off The Bandwagon.
The Celtics team that played in Boston wasn’t the same team we saw in Games 1, 2, and 5 in Atlanta. I really, really thought they’d take Game 5. Then I saw James Young check in. Tough night to say the least.
On the bright side, they are returning to Boston, which seems to be the only place the C’s can actually win a game. The Celtics will not lose this series at home. Too much heart, too much passion, too much pride to come home and lose in front of a packed Garden full of Massholes that do nothing but bleed Green.
They most likely will not win this series because they clearly don’t show up to play in Atlanta. BUT the guys on this team would rather DIE than lose at home in front of the best fans on earth.
So, here are my three keys to beating the Hawks in Game 6 and spoiler, one of them is actually hitting open jump shots. I know, I know, crazy concept but hear me out.
1. If Mike Budenholzer is smart, and I think he is, he won’t change his defensive scheme that much, meaning the Hawks will consistently show 2-3 defenders when Isaiah Thomas has the ball. It worked in Game 2 and it worked in Game 5 as Isaiah was scoreless in the first half. In Games 3 and 4, the strategy wasn’t much different, but the Celtics shooting was. Isaiah said after the game that his teammates have to step up and make the Hawks pay for doubling him. That means Turner, Jereboko, Smart, and Crowder have to hit their shots.
Jerebko came back down to earth, which was expected, but he plays better at home so I’m going to hold out hope that he’ll turn things around in Game 6. Crowder hit threes again and went 2-6 (better than 2-9 in Game 5), but I’m still waiting for him to really come alive.
I’d really just love for them to abandon the three-pointer all together but you and I both know they won’t, partly because of how good the Hawks are at packing the paint. The other reason they won’t is because when they actually hit shots, it really opens things up for Isaiah and they’re tough to beat.
2. The Celtics need to stop letting role players and bench players beat them. They did it in Game 1 and they did it again in Game 5. To make it even more annoying, they let the same two guys, Mike Scott and Kent Bazemore, beat them in both games. Bazemore hit three straight 3-pointers last night to bury the Celtics. That string of threes extended the Hawks lead from one to 10 in the blink of an eye, and the Hawks never looked back. Scott was another major key in erasing an early 10-point Celtics lead.
With Horford and Millsap both struggling to get anything going, the Hawks decided to go small and work any mismatch Scott had. He normally had a smaller defender like Turner on him who he would easily post-up and score on. Scott finished the game with 17 points off the bench and actually led the Hawks in scoring. And who finished right behind him in scoring? You guessed it, Bazemore with 16 points. I’m sorry, but when you can hold Horford to six points on 2-11 shooting and Millsap to 10 points on 4-8 shooting, how are you going to try and tell me you can’t stop Kent Bazemore and Mike freaking Scott? Unbelievable. Keep up the good work on Horford and Millsap, but you have to stop role players in Game 6.
3. In Game 5, the Celtics appeared to be one man short on every defensive rotation, which led to wide open three’s for the Hawks. I love how the Celtics play team defense and swarm the ball to try and create a turnover, especially when they pinch down on Atlanta’s bigs in the paint. But when it comes to shooters, you can’t over-commit and leave one open. Not having Avery Bradley has caused their perimeter defense to suffer greatly, so the C’s will really have to dig in and focus on not letting up too many open looks from behind the arc on Thursday.
The Celtics need someone other than their regulars to play well and ignite a spark. Amir Johnson has had a solid, if unspectacular series. He needs to come up big, but in order to do that he’ll need to get his minutes back. He saw his minutes cut in half and given to Kelly Olynyk who has barely played this series. As much as I love Kelly, Johnson and Sullinger have done just fine without out him, so why ruin a good thing. Part of me would rather see Olynyk than Sullinger due to how much of a liability Sullinger has been on defense, but at least he is producing somewhat on offense. But does Sully’s cringe-worthy offense even offset his disappearing act on D? If I had it my way I’d park Sully and Olynyk on the bench and let Johnson run wild. I’d even consider giving some of the extra minutes to Zeller, but in Brad We Trust.
As for Isaiah, he’s fine. He rolled his ankle. Basketball players do that all the time. Hell, Teague rolled his ankle in the first half and kept playing and if that were a close game Isaiah would have walked it off too. At that point though, the game was more than out of reach so no point in risking further injury. He probably won’t be at 100 percent on Thursday, but I don’t see him sitting out of the biggest game of his career thus far due to a minor ankle sprain.
It’s tough for me to pick the Celtics to win this next game, but I’m doing it anyway. They’d rather die before losing this series at home in front of the Celtics’ faithful. But, they’ve been night and day this series, so you never know when you’re in for another stinker.