The Boston Celtics won their two games at home versus the Atlanta Hawks to even the series at two games a piece. Will they be able to take a game on the road from the Hawks? They play tonight at 8pm in Atlanta, looking to do just that. With all the momentum in the series going Boston’s way, tonight is the night they have the best chance to win on the road.
Game three was the Isaiah Thomas show. “The Little Guy” scored 42 points as the Celtics brought the series to within a game. Then, in game four it took a great team effort from the Green to win in overtime and even out the series. Paul Milsap was unstoppable for the Hawks, scoring 45 points on 19-31 shooting. This helped fuel a 16 point lead for Atlanta in the third quarter, and they went into the fourth with an 11 point lead over the Celtics.
The Celtics began their comeback in the fourth, and this is where they really started to really click as a team. Jonas Jerebko made some big shots down the stretch, and Isaiah had another big night. IT put up 28 points and hit a layup to tie the game at 92 a piece with 15 seconds to play, ultimately forcing overtime after Jeff Teague lost the ball as time expired. It also took a huge performance from Marcus Smart. After a couple bonehead plays from Smart late in the fourth quarter, he really made up for it by scoring 11 straight points for the Celtics. He also played some great defense on the other end of the floor. Brad Stevens made the switch to put Marcus Smart on Paul Milsap. Smart is a point guard and Milsap is a power forward, but Smart’s competitive defense was enough to keep the red hot Milsap at bay in the closing minutes of the game. In overtime, the Celtics were led by a couple quick baskets from Amir Johnson, and Isaiah put the game away with a three pointer late in OT.
Now we look on toward tonight’s game. After four games, the home team has won all of them. This is bad for the Celtics since the Hawks have home court advantage in the seven game series. However, if the Celtics can win tonight, they set themselves up nicely to win the series at home in game six and take on Cleveland in the next round.
If the Celtics are going to win one on the road, it has to be tonight. They just won two straight games after it looked like they might be dead in the series. Atlanta has to be feeling a little deflated after dropping two straight, including one in overtime in a game where they had total control late in the third and early fourth quarters. Isaiah needs to continue to dominate offensively. After scoring only 16 points in the second game of the series that the Celtics never even had a chance to win, it was nice to see Thomas come out hot in the next two games. But will he be able to continue that on the road? I think so, but we’ll find out tonight.
The C’s also can’t let Milsap, or anyone, go off again. Game four was the second time this season Milsap has scortched Boston (the first time being in the regular season when he put up 31 points and 16 rebounds). They need to contain him, along with Atlanta’s other offensive big man, Al Horford. While they did a better job defending Jeff Teague in game four, holding him to 13 points on 4-18 shooting, he is still a threat to put up big numbers with his ability to drive to the hole and shoot the three. Isaiah is a great offensive player, but he just doesn’t have the capability to guard Teague by himself. This allows Teague to drive to the hole and either dish it to one of his big men, pass it out to a sharp shooter like Kyle Korver, or take it himself.
The game can’t only fall on Isaiah’s shoulders either. The Celtics will need other players to step up offensively. Evan Turner hasn’t been hitting some of the mid-range shots that we’re so accustomed to seeing him knock down. And Jae Crowder has been just awful this series. He’s playing on a hurt ankle but he still isn’t hitting his threes, which shouldn’t be bothered by the ankle too much like driving to the rim would be. Also, the normally lock down defender is letting players drive to the rim on him with ease on the defensive end.
There’s no room for error for the Celtics in this game. If they lose tonight, I do believe that they can win at home again in game six to even the series one more time, but game seven I’m not so sure about. A game seven on the road is a scary thought. The Celtics haven’t beaten the Hawks on the road this year in the regular season or playoffs, so it’d be best if they can do it tonight, rather than leave it up for a win or go home game. If the Celtics can’t win this series in six, then it will most likely be the Hawks in 7, and they’ll be the ones that head to Cleveland.