Well the Celtics have certainly come out and laid a couple eggs in their first two playoff games of 2016 and find themselves down 2-0 to the Atlanta Hawks, and the mountain to climb just keeps getting bigger.
In the two games in the ATL, the C’s came out flat and faced double-digit deficits heading into halftime. In fact, the best thing that happened in either of those games was watching the Hawks’ mascot fail a stunt and landing on a pole where it hurts the most.
In game one, Boston was down 17 at the half, and while they came back from a poor first half, even taking the lead in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t finish out the game and lost 102-101. They couldn’t stop Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and or even Kent Bazemore, who each scored 23 or more against Boston.To make matters worse, All-World defender Avery Bradley strained his hammy, and is likely to miss the rest of the series. Kelly Olynyk also got hurt in game one, and missed game two.
In game two, the Celtics scored all of seven points and found themselves down by 23 at the end of the first quarter. But unlike in game one, Boston couldn’t muster any type of offensive rhythm and lost by 17, 89-72. Marcus Smart had a pretty brutal day at the office, shooting 1/11 with three points and was torched by Kyle Korver in the first half on defense. Smart also came down with bruised ribs, as a result of trying to take a charge on Kent Bazemore, just to add injury to insult. The C’s had 15, count ’em, 15 shots rejected in game two, which lead to an ugly shooting percentage of just 31%.
The Boston Celtics face a steep climb if they want to get back into this series, but there is a glimmer of hope.
First of all, the biggest thing that the Celtics have going for them is that the series returns to the Garden, where the Celtics were 28-13. The Garden always seems to bring out the best in the guys who wear the green and white (and not the black trim) , especially when it comes to playoff time. After being swept last year by the Cleveland Cavaliers, this group of guys will likely feel a ton of pressure to get at least a couple of wins in this series.
Kelly Olynyk might be back, and after last night’s offensive performance, Olynyk could be a major help in the shooting department. Marcus Smart’s availability is also still in question, but after his showing last night, coupled with Terry Rozier’s productive night, do they even want him to suit up?
So what adjustments to the Celtics need to make in order to make this a series again?
The main part of the Celtics game that has been lacking this series, and basically the entire season, is the three point department. In the regular season, Boston attempted the 11th most threes per game, but only hit 33% of them, ranking 28th in the NBA. In game one, Boston shot 31% from deep on 35 attempts. In game two (shield your eyes, kids) the Celtics shot 5/28 from three… I’ll let that sink in…
I am one of the biggest Brad Stevens fans out there, but at some point you have to realize that shooting threes is just not working, so find a different way to score. And some of those attempts weren’t even close. Why Marcus Smart is shooting six threes is beyond me, as he’s a great driver and can finish through contact and is a 29% shooter from behind the line.
The good news about this is that Stevens has option thanks to Boston’s depth.If he wants to continue t o shoot threes he can go a couple of ways. Rookie RJ Hunter played 16 minutes last night, didn’t score, but he proved in college that he’s capable of hitting threes. Fellow rookie Terry Rozier shot 2/3 from deep in game two and provided great energy in his 24 minutes of play. I would expect his minutes to go up in game three because of Smart’s injury and his effectiveness.
The more logical way to go would be to at the defense and attack the basket with good penetrators like Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. Boston hasn’t gotten to the free throw line much in the first two games, but when they have, they’ve knocked down their foul shots, going 16/19 in game one and 11/12 in game two.
I would love to say for Boston to get out in transition and run their game, but in game two Atlanta completely shut down the C’s fast break attack and with the success that they had in doing that, I would expect them to continue that trend in the coming games.
One the defensive end, Boston has done a good job forcing Atlanta into bad shots, but haven’t been able to slow down Al Horford. Without a strong defensive big man (Amir Johnson has been on Paul Millsap), Horford has carved up the Boston defense on the block, from the mid range and has even hit 4/6 threes he’s attempted. Jared Sullinger just doesn’t have the height or length to cover Horford.
As a result, Sully fouled in game one in just 19 minutes and only played 14 minutes in game two. Double teaming Horford is tough because he’s an excellent passer from the post, but it might be Stevens’ best option. Another option could be playing small ball, with Jae Crowder covering Millsap and Amir Johnson on Horford, but I’m just brainstorming and spitballing ideas. Either way, I would much rather take my chances with players like Jeff Teague and Kent Bazemore shooting from three than Horford taking Sully to school on the post.
But regardless of what the defensive strategy is for Atlanta, Boston cannot afford to come out slow and sloppy like they have in the first two games. The key should be to attack early and often and try to get some easy points at the charity stripe and maybe get Al Horford or Paul Millsap in foul trouble.
Game three is an absolute must win for Boston, and all hands must play a part in making this a 2-1 series. Olynyk and Smart may not be 100% for this game, but if there’s one thing we know about this team, they’ll always play hard nosed no matter what, even if it doesn’t show up on the box score. I like this Celtics team to be inspired by the Garden crowd come Friday night and make this a competitive series.
Cover Photo via WPRI.com