Blakely: How Celts can close out Hawks

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Blakely: How Celts can close out Hawks

ATLANTA At the very end of Ray Allen's post-game media scrum Tuesday night, he left these chewable crumbs that we plan to feast off of today.

"We have to go back to the drawing board," he said.

And so we will.

There's not much value in spending all our time on what went wrong in Boston's 87-86 Game 5 loss. Rather than do that, we'll use what we've learned from the entire series to this point as a learning tool and move forward.

Here we'll highlight three things the C's can do that should put this series to bed Thursday night.

STAY HUNGRY

The Celtics have proven repeatedly to be a team that doesn't handle prosperity well. It seems the role of favorite, even if it's just for one game, is one that's too difficult for them to handle at times.

In Game 5, Boston played for long stretches like a team that wasn't in a must-win situation. That is not the case anymore.

A loss in Game 6 and the C's will find themselves on the verge of what would be one of the greatest playoff collapses in franchise history.

The best way to approach Game 6 for the C's is to have a Game 7 mentality. Back in 2008, Boston annihilated the Hawks in their Game 7 at the Garden.

Even though last night the Hawks found a way to stay alive for another game, their Game 5 win wasn't exactly the kind of victory that's all of a sudden going to bring back their confidence that they can win this series.

At the very least though, the Hawks feel they can compete.

Part of the C's job -- and they need to do it in the first quarter -- is to break the Hawks' spirit with a major run and show no signs of letting up in the second or third quarter.

In other words, whip out the Game 4 plan and do it again.

PAGING RYAN HOLLINS

The Celtics need to play Ryan Hollins more.

I can't believe what I just typed, so let me do it again just to make sure this isn't some type of out-of-body, crazy dream thing going on.

The Celtics need to play Ryan Hollins more.

It still feels kind of weird, but it's the truth.

Hollins is giving the Celtics so much more in this series than Greg Stiemsa, it's not even really a debatable topic who should play more.

Stiemsma has earned the right to play because of what he has done in the regular season. But this is the playoffs. The regular season means diddly-squat right now.

Doc Rivers has to play the guys who are making plays. And Hollins -- no matter how out of control or wild he seems at times -- is making lots of plays.

In the Game 5 loss, he had a plusminus ratio of plus-6. Only Mickael Pietrus (plus-11) and Kevin Garnett (plus-17) were better.

He's hustling for loose balls. He's getting under the skin of Hawks players. He's catching alley-oop dunks from Rajon Rondo.

And he is . . . rebounding.

With Hollins, the good play that the C's are getting from him, could dry up at anytime so it's important that they ride this out for as long as they can -- even if it means sitting Stiemsma.

"The one thing you know when Ryan comes into the game, something's gonna happen," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "It's gonna be good or bad, but something's gonna happen."

LESS IS MORE FOR RONDO

While it's great to see Rajon Rondo being such a willing participant in Boston's efforts to score more points, the numbers show that more shots from Rondo doesn't necessarily make the Celtics a better team.

Consider this: In this playoff series, Rondo has taken 10 or more shots in the four games he played (he missed Game 2 while serving a suspension for making contact with official Marc Davis near the end of Game 1).

In those games, the Celtics are 2-2.

During the regular season, Boston was 12-13 in games in which he took 10 or more shots. One of the overlooked aspects of his recent run of double-doubles has been the fact that many of them have come on nights when Rondo was not a particularly efficient shooter.

In Boston's 87-86 Game 5 loss, he made some incredible plays both shooting the ball and as passer. But he also missed some easy ones, too, which accounted for him scoring 13 points while needing to take 17 shots to do so.

Every night, Rondo has to find that balance between when to search for his shot, and when to continue to find his teammates. For most of this season, he's done a really good job of doing so.

But for the C's to close out this series on Thursday, him finding that happy medium would make the process a whole lot smoother.

Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

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Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

BOSTON -- Success comes in many shapes and sizes, and is not always seen the same by NBA players -- not even teammates.

That was certainly the case following Boston’s 104-92 Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, which ended the Celtics season.

While the C's won more regular-season games (48) than they did a year ago and put up a much better fight in the playoffs than last April's four-game sweep at the hands of Cleveland, having it all end the way it did at home on Thursday clearly left a bitter taste in the mouths of most players.

Whether this was a successful season is open to debate.

But what’s abundantly clear for the Celtics is this team did indeed make progress from where it was a year ago.

“You go from 40 (wins), under .500 and barely making the playoffs and kind of eeking in at the end by winning six straight, to being in the mix for being a top-four seed in the East,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “And so, yes, there’s progress.”

But as far as this being a successful season, that’s not nearly as cut and dry.

“Of course it’s only going to be one team to have a successful year and that’s when you hold that trophy up,” said  Jae Crowder. “So until we do that, it’s not a successful season. We are going to keep building, keep working.”

Marcus Smart had a slightly different opinion on the matter.

“I don’t look at it as a failure, for sure,” Smart said. “We did a lot of great things this season. We’re a young team. That’s good for us coming back. We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but I don’t look at the season as a failure. So I guess you can say it was a success for us.”

But looking at how this season ended, while disappointing, serves as a reminder as to how Boston remains a team with talent but plenty of room to grow.

“People have told me all along there’s two really tough tasks, right?” Stevens said. “One is getting to be a very good, competitive team at a top 10-15 level on offense and defense and give yourself a chance to be in the discussion we’re in right now. And that’s been a path in the last three years to get there.

"And the next (task, which is becoming a legitimate championship contender) is tough. And that’s been communicated before to me and we’re learning a lot. We learned a lot through this playoff series, but one of the things that I’ve learned is we’ve got to get better. And you know what? That starts with me. I’ve got to get better, and then I think each of our players will look at that accountably as well and we’re all going to be better the next time we take the court.”

In doing so, they look to build off the progress made this season and inch closer towards having a truly successful season . . . which around here more often than not, means competing for an NBA title.

That’s why for Jared Sullinger, one of the few remaining players from the Big Three era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen when deep postseason runs were an expectation and not a goal, he doesn’t see this season as being a successful one for the Green team.

“If we’re thinking making it to the playoffs is a successful season, then we’re going in the wrong direction,” Sullinger said. “If you look in this locker room, you see everybody’s down. We didn’t want it to end like that; we wanted to make a run. It’s tough losing like that.”

Sullinger added, “Last year we were glad to make the playoffs. This year, we wanted to make a run, we wanted to make some noise. Unfortunately, our noise got cut short.”

C you next season?: Future is unclear for several Celtics

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C you next season?: Future is unclear for several Celtics

BOSTON – There are few guarantees when it comes to the NBA and the Boston Celtics, but one thing’s for certain: change is going to come next season.

This is especially true for the Celtics whose season ended with a 104-92 Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, sending the C’s home for the season with a second straight first-round exit.

“That’s just the business of the NBA,” said Isaiah Thomas who had a double-double of 25 points and 10 assists which were both game highs on Thursday. “One thing I do know, I ride with these guys until the wheels fall off; I mean this was a special group.”

But whether they stay together remains to be seen.

Among those who could be on the move is Evan Turner, an unrestricted free agent this summer.

He will be among the more heavily pursued Celtics this summer, in large part because of his versatility as both a playmaker and scoring guard off the bench.

Several teams will come hard after Turner, among them being the New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic who are desperate to add talented, proven veterans to their young rosters.

The second year of Jonas Jerebko’s contract becomes fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster after July 3. Considering the way he played in the postseason as well as his steady presence during the regular season, the Celtics are more than likely to keep him around for next season.

Boston has a pair of restricted free agents in Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger. It is unclear what the Celtics will do with them because it remains to be seen what type of offers (if any) they receive from another team.

“This season didn’t go exactly how I would have wanted it to,” Zeller told CSNNE.com. “But I like it here, I like the coaching staff and the players. So we’ll see what happens this summer. But yeah, I’m definitely open to the idea of coming back next season.”

There’s a certain amount of uncertainty surrounding Amir Johnson who could potentially become a free agent this summer if the Celtics decline to pick up the second year on his contract which is worth $12 million.

When I asked Johnson if he felt he had done enough to have to his second year picked up by the Celtics he told CSNNE.com, “I hope so.”

Johnson added, “We never quit even when we were down big at the end of the game. I feel there’s stuff we can clean up and be better, from the coaching staff to the players to the front office. But there’s something about this team, we don’t have no quit in us. I feel like we can definitely go far if we just put the right pieces together.”

And as far as his future in Boston, “I definitely want to here.”

Only time will tell just how many of Boston’s potential free agents will be riding with the Green Team next season, or be swept away and wind up on another roster in what will surely be an offseason of change.