OFFSEASON

Blakely: Celtics vs. Hawks game two preview

750686.jpg

Blakely: Celtics vs. Hawks game two preview

ATLANTA Avery Bradley has arrived high atop the scouting report, that is.

As much as the Atlanta Hawks focused their efforts on dealing with Boston's Big Four, limiting Bradley's impact was among the key factors in Atlanta's Game 1 win over the Celtics on Sunday.

Now that Rajon Rondo (suspension) is out for Game 2, Bradley's play will come under even greater scrutiny.

Rather than pair him up with another ball-handling guard such as Keyon Dooling, the Celtics have elected to go with Mickael Pietrus as a replacement in the starting lineup with Bradley sliding over to the point guard position.

You can bet that Paul Pierce will be more of a point-forward tonight, but Bradley will be called upon at times to bring the ball up and initiate the offense.

Without Rondo, Atlanta's Josh Smith said the Hawks will look to pressure the ball more with the goal being to make it as difficult as possible for the C's to run their offense.

That likely means trying to take advantage of Bradley's greatest weakness, which is his ball-handling.

Usually Bradley has done well in other areas of the game such as forcing turnovers, scoring off cuts to the basket or hitting wide open corner 3s.

"We need to cut Bradley's water off early; we can't let him get confidence early," Smith said. "When he plays with confidence, he's a tough player to guard. So we have to be able to try and take (away) his confidence early."

And they'll look to do that by trying to take his own strength and use it against him.

"Do what he does to us," Smith said. "He's one of the great defenders in this league at a young age. Just see if he likes it a little bit; picking him up full court and turning him a little bit and making it hard for him to initiate the offense for them."

The Bradley effect will go far in determining whether the Celtics can prevent the Hawks from taking a 2-0 series lead - something they have never done in the previous 11 playoff series they've had with the C's. Here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Rondo-less Celtics try to even up their first-round series with the Hawks and by doing so, immediately swing home court advantage of the series in their favor.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Atlanta will try to come out and knock down shots early in the shot clock, which was a major factor in them jumping out to a 20-6 lead in Game 1. In that opening run, the Hawks made eight field goals. Of those eight field goals, five came with 10 or more seconds on the shot clock. Boston's plan on countering that is pretty simple. "We have to defend, right from the start," C's Mickael Pietrus told CSNNE.com. "We have to come out, be more aggressive, be better defensively. We do that, we'll be OK."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Jason Collins: This was one of those matchups in Game 1 where the numbers were deceiving. Garnett had 20 points and 12 rebounds while Collins had just six points and five rebounds. But let's be clear. In terms of what each player wanted to do and what their teams needed from them, Collins was the winner. He made Garnett take tough, contested shots which in turn led to Garnett shooting 8-for-19 from the field. The C's have often said that Garnett doesn't need to score a bunch in order to play well. This is true. He has to provide more of a presence at both ends of the floor, especially if Josh Smith (22 points, 18 rebounds) gets off to another fast start as was the case on Sunday.
PLAYER TO WATCH - The C's are hoping for a little post-birthday breakout game for Brandon Bass, who turned 27 years old on Monday. Although his numbers this season against the Hawks - 13 points, 8.3 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent from the field - are better than his season averages, the 6-8 forward has not played well in his last two games against the Hawks.

In a loss to Atlanta last month, he had 10 points but shot 4-for-15 from the field. And in Game 1, he was 3-for-7 with eight points. Bass said the Hawks have been defending him differently by switching more pick-and-rolls to prevent him from getting free for his mid-range jumper. While Bass would love to impact the game with his shot-making, he understands at this point impacting the game - period - is what the C's really need from him more than anything else.

"I just have to find a way to get more involved in the game earlier," Bass told CSNNE.com. "Blocking shots or something, rebounding, get everybody else involved if they're going to try and take me out of scoring. Now it's time for me to make my adjustment."

Rivers believes that it's Bass - not the Hawks - that have limited his effectiveness of late.

"His mind is alive, which is never good," Rivers told CSNNE.com, referring to Bass thinking too much on the floor. "He's just gotta play. We showed him (video) he's open. He's pump-faking; just shoot it."

Despite Bass having played in 29 playoff games, Sunday's game was his first with the C's and that, Rivers believes, makes his struggles not all that different than what some of the Celtics other playoff newbies are going through now. "He hadn't been in a big game with us, so he's just like Avery (Bradley) and Greg (Stiemsma)," Rivers said. "We expected it."

STAT TO TRACK - With Rajon Rondo out, you can expect Paul Pierce to spend more time as the Celtics' facilitator. As much as Boston benefits from Pierce's scoring, they have been very successful when the Truth is wheelin' and dealin' up assists at a fairly high rate. Pierce averaged 4.5 assists per game this season which ranked second to Rondo's NBA-high 11.7 assists per game. The Captain had 18 games in which he had six or more assists, with the Celtics emerging with an impressive 14-4 record in those games.

"I tell y'all many times, I play within the flow of the game, try to give it what it needs regardless of who is out there," Pierce said.

OFFSEASON

Tanguay: Celtics should steer clear of Al Horford

hawks_al_horford_020916.jpg

Tanguay: Celtics should steer clear of Al Horford

The Celtics reportedly are taking a look at free agent Al Horford.

Ah, why?

Wait. Make that WHY?

If you're going with someone like Jaylen Brown, you don't pursue a Grade B free agent like Horford. Or even think about making a deal for Kevin Love. When the Celtics decided not to deal the third pick for an Okafor, Noel or Butler, and instead went for a player who'll need several years to fully develop, the course for this offseason was set.

Now, if the Celtics wow the daylights out of Kevin Durant and land him, Horford would be a nice addition for a less-than-max deal. But, despite my fanboy optimism in regard to a Durant signing, the chances are slim that KD will land in Boston.

I really liked Al Horford. Notice the use of the past tense. He's 30 years old and will get a max deal from somebody stupid enough to give him one. The guy averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season and went MIA for Games 3, 4 and 5 in the playoffs against Boston. He's on the downside of his career, and I'd rather the Celtics enter next season with the roster they have now than add Horford.

I feel the same way about Love. If your top draft pick has one year of college experience and needs to greatly improve his basketball skills -- hello there, Jaylen Brown -- why bother with Love?

Horford and Love would be pieces to add if Durant comes here. Period. And please don't tell me that adding both, or either, would make the Celtics more attractive to KD. Nope.

I feel the Celtics have made their bed. It's Kevin Durant or nothing at all.

OFFSEASON

Kevin Durant and Reggie Lewis: A number of similarities

durant_lewis_graphic.jpg

Kevin Durant and Reggie Lewis: A number of similarities

Boston has never stopped dreaming about Kevin Durant racing down the parquet floor in Celtics green. The vision feels as fresh today, with Durant set to enter free agency, as it did nine years ago, when the Celts had the second-best odds at landing him in the 2007 draft.

But fate intervened. The ping-pong balls fell wrong, the Celtics ended up with the fifth pick, Durant went to Seattle, and Danny Ainge constructed the new Big 3.

Even though it worked out fine -- remember Banner 17? -- Boston’s feelings for Durant haven’t diminished. Fans still wonder what would’ve happened had the C’s won the lottery and landed Durant.

With rumors swirling around the Celtics’ looming pursuit of Durant, Isaiah Thomas recently sent out a tweet with Durant's No. 35 next to a green shamrock. The tweet was representative of Boston’s all-in recruitment of Durant, but it also sent a reminder to fans of what could’ve been -- not just of Durant, but of another No. 35.

Durant isn’t just any NBA superstar to Celtics fans. At a subconscious level, Durant is a reminder of Reggie Lewis.

Celtic fans have always wondered what could’ve been if, 23 years ago, Lewis hadn’t passed away at the age of 27. But beyond the vexing question of “What if?” Durant’s resemblance to Lewis extends deep.

Like Lewis, Durant is lanky with wide shoulders and long arms. Like Lewis, Durant can score by shooting over the top or by dunking loudly at the rim. Durant has the chance to deliver the promise that Lewis showed, a beacon of hope for a franchise starved for a championship.

Durant will listen to the Celtics’ pitch when free agency opens on July 1. Boston has plenty to offer: Strong organizational stability, a cohesive locker room, the assets to add multiple players.

But the Celts can pitch much than that, if they choose, by offering Durant -- who wears No. 35 in Oklahoma City -- the opportunity to honor the life of Reggie Lewis by wearing his retired No. 35.

I asked Lewis’ mother, Inez Ritch, how she’d feel if the Celtics asked for her blessing to offer No. 35 to Durant as a tribute to her son.

“I don’t think it would take anything from Reggie because his number is still hanging up in the Garden,” Ritch told me over the phone. “If I see Durant running up and down the court with the No. 35, I don’t know how my emotions would be until it happens.

"I don’t think I would be upset about it. I think it would be a good thing because he is a very nice, humble young man. I don’t know a lot about him, but I know of some of the things he has achieved while wearing the No. 35.”

It’s not an unprecedented move for pro sports team to unretire a number. The Spurs gave Bruce Bowen’s No. 12 to LaMarcus Aldridge. Syracuse recently restored Jim Brown’s No. 44. The Broncos gave Frank Tripucka’s No. 18 to Peyton Manning.

Having a player of Durant’s stature wear Lewis’ No. 35 would stand as a symbol of the Celtics’ 70-year history. Lewis was 27 was when he passed away in 1993. Durant, who turns 28 in November, could carry on the tradition with honor.

“You can feel the tradition walking in here,” Durant once said in respect to Celtics lore. “You see all the guys plastered on the walls as you walk into the locker room. The tradition of being a Boston Celtic is second to none.”

In the private confines of the visitor’s locker room at TD Garden, the stories continued. Speaking with myself and a few other reporters, Durant described how Kendrick Perkins raved about his time in Boston. The fans. The front office. The legacy. Then, as Durant walked slowly down the hallway towards his team bus, he looked at the Celtics legends pictured on the wall and whispered, “Man, there's a lot of history in this building."

The Celtics retired Lewis’ No. 35 in 1995 not only for his triumphs on the court, but his impact off it. Lewis was active in the community in Boston and at home in the Baltimore area. He ran his own foundation and always participated in community events that helped children in need.

“It was quite an honor to have my child be recognized in this manner for the achievements that he had achieved in the short time,” Ritch said. “And to know that people all over loved him so much, it’s quite an honor to be able to say that was my little boy.”

Durant grew up only one hour away from Lewis, in Washington D.C., and today has his own foundation that aims to enrich the lives of at-risk youth from low-income backgrounds. The struggling D.C./Baltimore area longs for him to return home, but Boston isn’t far and could serve as a close connection to the area.

Both on and off the court, Durant is the only player in sports that can ‘remember Reggie.’ There is no other player the Celtics should even consider offering the number to. There’s something poetic about even the thought of it. It almost feels like destiny.

The No. 35 will always belong to Reggie Lewis, but Kevin Durant is a player fitting to continue his legacy.

 

OFFSEASON

Smart: 'Any team would love to see Durant; his type of caliber of player on their team'

Smart: 'Any team would love to see Durant; his type of caliber of player on their team'

WALTHAM, Mass. – Marcus Smart is no different than the average NBA fan this summer when it comes to Oklahoma City free agent-to-be Kevin Durant.

Durant, the runaway valedictorian of this summer’s free agent class, will begin to officially hear overtures for his services from NBA teams on Friday, the first day of free agency.

The former league MVP has a short list of teams that he’s reportedly considering, with the Celtics being among those to make the cut for meeting with Durant shortly after the free agency period begins. Others include his current team Oklahoma City as well as Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami and San Antonio.

Boston has had a longing for some of the top free agents in past years, but to be on the short list of teams for player of Durant’s stature, is somewhat surprising.

“They (Celtics) want him just as bad as the other teams that he’s meeting with,” a league executive told CSNNE.com who is not among the franchises slated to meet with Durant in the coming days. “The fact that they’re on the short list is a huge feather in the Celtics’ cap.”

Smart is well aware that Boston has an uphill climb when it comes to landing Durant, a player he used to watch when he was at Oklahoma State and Durant was starring for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Any team would love to see Durant; his type of caliber of player on their team,” Smart said on Tuesday during his basketball camp at Brandeis University. “We’re not the ones who make that call. We just sit back and wait and whatever decision that the front office makes we’re ready to run with it.”

Among those decisions was to keep the current group intact on draft night when there were a handful of potential moves that the Celtics could have made.

“He’s trying to keep this core group together and keep us together as a team,” said Smart who added, “It’s hard. Like I said, you have to give credit to Danny (Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations) for doing the things that he does. We trust in him; we believe in him.”

Smart, entering his third season, was among the player names thrown about as potentially being on the move on draft night.

I asked him what that was like, while still being such a relatively young player.

“To be honest, hearing your name in the trade rumors is a good thing,” Smart said. “Just because it lets you know other teams want you; that other teams are trying to get you. It’s a good and bad thing. Especially you been in a city for so long, you connect with the people, the fans, the community, the organization, you’re like, ‘dang!’ But at the same time, it lets you know you are a valuable person.”

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN