Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview


Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

BOSTON Throughout the ups and downs of what has been a turbulent season for the Boston Celtics, the C's never really put a lot of stock in the need to win at home. That's because for them, it was never seen as a necessity but rather an expectation.

That's why the Celtics were never really pressed about finishing with a better record than the Hawks, which would have landed them the home court advantage at the start of the series.

"We believe in ourselves and that when we play the way we're capable of playing, that we can beat anyone, anywhere," C's guard Keyon Dooling told

Boston proved just that in snatching the home court edge away from the Hawks with a Game 2 win in Atlanta. They proved that they can get it done at home, too, with a Game 3 overtime win on Friday.

A victory tonight for Boston would give them a 3-1 series lead, the kind of edge that would most likely prove too steep for the Hawks to overcome.

And if the C's win this series and the Sixers continue their upset run over the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, the Celtics would begin their second-round series with home court advantage -- something they did not anticipate having at any point to start a series.

But first things first. They must take care of the Hawks, and defending home court will indeed be a major factor in this series now. Here are a few other keys to tonight's game as the C's try to continue their home dominance in the playoffs against the Hawks (23-2 since 1960).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR No one knows for sure what Josh Smith will bring to the floor in his expected return to the Atlanta Hawks lineup. Before the left knee injury that forced him to miss Game 3, Smith was the best player in this series. It'll be worth keeping an eye on whether he can rekindle that individual dominance in Game 4, which as he put it, has to be approached with a must-win mentality. "I understand the importance of this game coming up (tonight)," Smith told "You can't play injured, but you can play a little hurt. My teammates need me out there, so I have to go out there and try to play the best I can play."

MATCHUP TO WATCH Avery Bradley vs. Kirk Hinrich: If Avery Bradley (left shoulder) plays as expected, it'll be worth keeping tabs on whether the Hawks try to test that injured shoulder by putting Hinrich in a lot of pick-and-rolls with their bigs. If Bradley's shoulder becomes problematic, this is where it'll be most noticeable. Although Hinrich was scoreless (0-for-3) in Atlanta's Game 3 loss, the C's know his game well enough to understand that you can't leave him open too many times before he makes you pay.

PLAYER TO WATCH Paul Pierce has been giving the Celtics about as much as he can after three games, averaging 24.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. But he's doing it by logging a ton of minutes -- 44.3 per game, to be exact. He hasn't averaged that many minutes in the playoffs since the 2002-2003 season when he averaged 44.5 minutes played in 10 playoff games. You have to wonder if at some point if all those minutes will catch up to Pierce and the C's.

STAT TO TRACK Both of these jump-shooting teams will try and be the aggressor tonight. The clearest example of who is winning this battle can be seen in the number of free throw attempts. Boston is ninth among playoff teams in free throw attempts, with 23 per game. The Hawks are dead-last, with 18.7 per game.

Still wait-and-see on Smart's status for Celtics' opener


Still wait-and-see on Smart's status for Celtics' opener

BOSTON – Marcus Smart’s sprained left ankle injury continues to heal, but the Celtics remain in wait-and-see mode when it comes to his availability for the season opener on Wednesday against Brooklyn.
Smart sprained the ankle in the second quarter of a 121-96 preseason loss to the New York Knicks when he stepped on the foot of Knicks guard Justin Holliday.
He was helped off the floor by teammates Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas along with head trainer Ed Lacerte.
Since the injury, the Celtics have been pleased with the healing progress of the ankle, the same ankle he sprained as a rookie which kept him out for several weeks.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Smart is no longer in a walking boot and continues to be day-to-day as he receives a steady diet of treatments to help speed up the healing process.
Smart will undergo a series of tests to determine the ankle’s strength, prior to getting any kind of clearance to play.
That’s why Stevens isn’t worried about Smart returning to the floor too soon.
“I trust our staff. Our staff and Marcus will make that decision well,” Stevens said. “Then I play guys, if they are available.”
Smart has established himself as one of the Celtics’ top reserves, with the ability to play both guard positions and some small forward depending on the lineup on the floor. The Celtics have to prepare for the possibility that he will not be able to play in the opener (or the first few games considering Boston opens with three games in four nights.

His absence would create more playing time for Terry Rozier in addition to likely resulting in extended minutes for starters such as Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder.
As eager as Smart is to get back on the floor, he and the Celtics are mindful of the big picture.
This team wants to make a deep playoff run and they’ll everyone – Smart included – to do so.
That’s why as much as Smart wants to get on the floor immediately, he has to remember – or be reminded of – that this is an 82-game season and his long-term value to this team and its goals can’t be taken for granted.

Olynyk cleared for full contact at Celtics' practice


Olynyk cleared for full contact at Celtics' practice

BOSTON - The Celtics got a bit of good news on the injury front with Kelly Olynyk being cleared for full contact.
The 7-foot center participated in most of the Celtics’ drills on Saturday, some of which included contact.
Olynyk said he had been doing some contact work prior to practice Saturday, but in a more controlled setting.
“I’m just trying to ramp it up a little bit more, every day,” Olynyk said. “Just trying to take a step in the right direction every day.”
Olynyk had surgery on his right shoulder in May with him expected to be out for at least five months.
Danny Ainge, C's president of basketball operations, recently said that he anticipated Olynyk returning sometime in the middle of November.
That would put his return about six months out from the time of surgery.

“He did a lot more than he has done,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ll see how he feels and progress at the appropriate rate after that.”
One of the strengths that Olynyk brought to the floor when he played was the ability to help space the floor because of his 3-point shooting.
Olynyk was not just a good 3-point shooter for a center, but one of the better 3-point shooters in the NBA last season when he connected on 40.5 percent of his 3s last season.  And it’s clear that last season was not a fluke, evident by him shooting 37.3 percent on 3s for his career.
However, the addition of Al Horford not only solidified the Celtics’ interior defense but also provides them with another stretch center.
Horford, who spent the past nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, shot 34 percent on 3s last season which at the very least, makes him a player that defenses have to respect when he’s outside of the 3-point line.