BOSTON You'll often hear Paul Pierce say that he's all about giving the game what it needs.
We'll find out if Pierce and his banged-up left knee can do just that in tonight's Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks. Boston leads the best-of-seven first-round series, 3-2.
Now there's plenty that the C's would love to have Pierce deliver tonight -- getting to the free throw line likely at the top of that list.
It's no secret that when Pierce is in attack mode and getting to the free throw line, the Celtics are a better -- a much better -- team.
And when he doesn't, you get games like Game 5 in which Pierce and the C's came up short.
In this series, Pierce's ability to get to the line has been a leading indicator on whether the C's are victorious.
In the two losses to the Hawks, Pierce has taken just three free throw attempts.
In the three wins, he's averaging more than nine free throw attempts per game.
That's pretty consistent with how things played out during the regular season, during which the Celtics were 10-4 in games that Pierce had nine or more free throw attempts.
It was pretty clear that the left knee injury Pierce suffered prior to Game 4 was still bothering him in Game 5, a game in which Pierce did not go to the free throw line once.
Pierce's ability to get to the line will go a long way in determining if the C's can close out this series tonight. Here are some other keys to tonight's game as Boston seeks to eliminate the Hawks for the 10th time in 11 postseason meetings.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Boston will look to shore up its defense against the Hawks' 3-point shooting. A big part of this will have to do with the C's doing a better job of rotating out to the Hawks' shooters. In the second quarter of Boston's Game 5 loss, Atlanta connected on four consecutive 3-pointers that in hindsight gave the Hawks the kind of confidence that they rode for the rest of the game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Brandon Bass vs. Josh Smith: This has been a really tough matchup for Bass, but he's starting to figure out how to deliver offensively. Bass has scored in double figures the last two games, which includes 14 points -- the most he has scored in this series -- in Boston's Game 5 loss. As for Smith, the left knee injury that has bothered him for the bulk of this series still hasn't prevented him from being a double-double machine that the C's have yet to find an answer for containing. In the four games Smith has played in (he did not play in Game 3), he is averaging 16.5 points and 14.8 rebounds.
PLAYER TO WATCH -- Al Horford was the best player on the floor in Game 5 when it mattered most -- the fourth quarter. It wasn't so much that he scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as much as it was his ability to come up with one big play after another, whether it was a tough shot around the basket or an end-of-the-game defensive play to disrupt the Celtics offensively. Figuring out how to limit his effectiveness will be one of the Celtics' greatest challenges tonight.
STAT TO TRACK: Even though Ray Allen is coming off the bench now, he's still playing starter-like minutes. So you know it's only a matter of time before he delivers a vintage Ray Allen game. He has had some good games as a reserve, but has failed to surpass the 20-point barrier in 11 straight games -- the longest such streak he has had with the Celtics. Considering the magnitude of tonight's game and the fact that he has yet to surpass the 20-point mark, it wouldn't be all that shocking if his shot-making propelled the C's to a win tonight and with it, moving them on to the next round of the playoffs.