Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

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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 CSNNE.com.

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 CSNNE.com. "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.

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.