Blakely's Celtics-Hawks Game 5 preview


Blakely's Celtics-Hawks Game 5 preview

ATLANTA Nobody said winning in the playoffs was easy. And closing out a series? Even tougher.

It certainly has been that way for the Boston Celtics under Doc Rivers. For all that Rivers has done well, putting teams away has not been one of them.

Under Rivers' watch, the Celtics are just 9-12 in close-out games.

On the road, Boston's close 'em out woes are even worse, with the C's posting a 2-9 record in such games.

Fortunately for them, they face an Atlanta team that has been even worse when faced with the prospect of being eliminated.

In fact, each of the last three seasons for the Hawks have ended with a playoff loss at home. And the losses have been by a surprisingly lopsided 14.7 points per game margin.

Regardless of what has happened in the past, the Celtics are gearing up for what they believe will be the toughest game of the season.

"I just feel like it won't be an easy task," said Boston's Keyon Dooling. "We gotta come in with the right frame of mind. We have to be focused and we have to compete. They will be a desperate team. They don't want to go out like this. I think they'll come out clawing and scratching. We have to be prepared to match their energy."

How the C's handle a desperate Hawks team, especially at the start of the game, will go a long way in determining tonight's winner. Here are some other keys to tonight's Game 5 matchup as the Celtics try to close out their first-round series.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Rajon Rondo has been able to shred the Hawks apart in bite-size chunks that the Celtics are simply devouring. If you're Atlanta, you have to find a way to get the ball out of his hands. Don't be surprised if the Hawks look to apply more full-court pressure to Rondo, with the hopes of getting the ball out of his hands and into the hands of Avery Bradley who doesn't handle the ball nearly as well as Rondo. Not only does this take the ball out of the C's best play-maker, but it also kills time on the shot clock which makes it tougher for the Celtics to execute the way they want to offensively.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson: This has been a surprisingly lopsided matchup thus far -- but not how you might have expected it be. Pierce has dominated Johnson, plain and simple. Sure, Pierce has had plenty of help defensively. But here's the thing: The Hawks are one of the league's top-5 teams defensively and Pierce has lit them up throughout the series. As for Johnson, he has yet to have a signature, big-time performance for Atlanta -- the kind of thing your best scorer can't allow to happen. Four games into this series, there are at least five players (Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and for Atlanta, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague) who have had a bigger impact than Johnson. Another rough night for him, and he and the Hawks will have the entire summer to think about why he disappeared when they needed him most.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- For a guy who missed all but 11 games of the 2011-2012 season, Al Horford (12 points, five rebounds) looked pretty good. Not surprisingly, he was pretty fired up once he got on the floor (he hit Greg Stiemsma with an elbow mere seconds after checking into the game, and was called for an offensive foul) and his timing was off early on, but his availability can do nothing but help the Hawks keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

STAT TO TRACK -- You had to bank on Kevin Garnett dominating the series with whomever he matched up against at the center position for the Hawks. But this has been ridiculous. Put it this way: Garnett has had two games in which he scored 20 points. Jason Collins has scored a total of 12 points and aside from Game 1 has not presented much of a fight defensively in limiting Garnett's effectiveness. The return of Al Horford should close the gap at the center position for Atlanta. But even with him back, look for Garnett to still win this matchup -- and with that, the C's to likely close out the series tonight.

Young understands work isn't done after claiming Celtics final roster spot

Young understands work isn't done after claiming Celtics final roster spot

WALTHAM, Mass. – For so many years the game of basketball came easy – almost too easy – for James Young.

He stood out on a young Kentucky team that played at the highest levels, delivering the kind of performances as an 18-year-old college freshman that catapulted him into the first round of the NBA draft.

To be so young and already having achieved a childhood dream, to be in the NBA, Young was too young to realize how quickly the dream could become a nightmare if he didn't put in the necessary work.

The past couple of weeks have not been easy for Young, aware that the Celtics were torn as to whether they should keep him around this season or waive him.

They choose the former and instead waived his now-ex teammate R.J. Hunter, on Hunter’s 23rd birthday no less.

One of the first acts Young said he planned to do following Monday's practice was to reach out to Hunter, offer words of encouragement to a player he looked upon as a brother, a brother who is in a state of basketball limbo right now which could have easily been the latest chapter in James Young’s basketball narrative.

And that’s why as happy as Young is to still be donning the Green and White, his work towards proving himself to this team, to this franchise is far from done.

You listen to veterans like Jae Crowder, a second-round pick who has come up the hard way in the NBA, they speak of how Young now takes the game more serious.

Even Young acknowledged that he didn’t take the NBA game and the need to work at staying in the league as serious as he should have initially.

“I wasn’t playing as hard (early on),” Young admitted. “I just was satisfied being where I was, being too comfortable. My confidence was down. I have to change that around.”

Crowder, a straight-no-chaser kind of fellow, said as much when I asked him about the changes he has seen in Young.

“He’s taking stuff a little more serious,” Crowder said. “It’s growing up. He came in as a first-round draft pick and was on the borderline of getting cut. I don’t know what else is going to wake you up.”

That’s part of what made this decision so difficult and on some levels, left players with mixed emotions about the decision.

For those of us who followed this team through training camp, there was no question that Young had the better camp.

But the one thing that was never questioned with Hunter, was his work ethic. He made his share of mistakes and missed more shots than a player with a sharpshooter's reputation should, but you never got a sense it had anything to do with him not working as hard as he needed to.

That was among the more notable issues with Young who came into the league as an 18-year-old. That youth probably worked for him as opposed to Hunter who played three years of college basketball and was expected to be seemingly more NBA-ready.

Even though Hunter’s NBA future is on uncertain ground now, he’s too young and too talented to not get at least one more crack with an NBA team.

And by Boston waiving him, he really does become a low-risk, high-reward prospect that an NBA team might want to take a closer look at with their club. 

And Young remains a Celtic, doing all that he can to climb up the pecking order which now has him as the clear-cut 15th man on the roster.

He might see more minutes than rookie Demetrius Jackson and possibly second-year forward Jordan Mickey, but Young’s future with the Boston Celtics is still on relatively thin ice.

“I told him this morning, this might be the first time he’s earned anything in his life,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations.  “He earned this by his play, day-in and day-out. He was given a lot as a young kid with a lot of promise, a lot of potential. We talked about earlier this summer, he had to come out and win a spot with some good competition and he did. He needs to keep doing what he’s doing.”

More than anything else, Young has been consistent in his effort, overall energy and attention to detail. But it remains to be seen if Young has done all that to just secure a roster spot, or has he truly grown up and figured out what has to be done in order to be an NBA player.