Blakely's Celtics-Hawks Game 6 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Hawks Game 6 preview

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.

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

BOSTON – Saturday was yet another night when the opposing team – this time it was the Portland Trail Blazers – that up the Boston Celtics with an avalanche of points that ended in a 127-123 overtime loss.

And yet through the rubble of all those lay-ups and put-back baskets and mid-range jumpers, Stevens saw something he has not seen in a while – hope that better days defensively were coming sooner rather than later.

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“As crazy as it sounds with them scoring (127) … I actually thought we were a lot closer to defending the way we want to defend," said Stevens. "I thought we were really locked into those guards, and I thought we tried to make it as tough as possible. Those guys are really good players, obviously, but I thought, I thought we did a lot of good things in that regard.”

For the most part, Boston and Portland played a relatively even game that wasn’t decided until the final minute of overtime.

“They just made more plays down the stretch,” said Boston’s Al Horford.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday’s game.

 

STARS

C.J. McCollum

He tends to get second billing to Damian Lillard, but he was a first rate problem for the Celtics. He led the Blazers with 35 points on 11-for-21 shooting.

Damian Lillard

After a foul-troubled first half, Lillard stepped up like the All-Star he is in the second half to finish with 28 points and seven assists which included seven of Portland’s 14 points in overtime.

Isaiah Thomas

It was another dynamic scoring night for Thomas, finishing with a game-high 41 points which included 21 in the fourth quarter and overtime.


STUDS

Terry Rozier

Making the most of his chance to play due to injuries and illnesses, Rozier came up with a number of big shots all night. He finished with 15 points which included a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds in the fourth that forced overtime.

Mason Plumlee

In addition to doing a solid job protecting the rim, Plumlee also tallied a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds while dishing out a game-high eight assists.

Meyers Leonard

Easily the big X-factor of the game, Leonard had 17 points off the bench on 6-for-7 shooting.

 

DUDS

Celtics Turnovers

This is the one area where the Celtics have been really good all season. Saturday? Not so much. Boston turned the ball over a season-high 21 times which accounted for 34 points for the Blazers.