Celtics-Hawks Game 5 review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Hawks Game 5 review: What we saw . . .

ATLANTA The Boston Celtics' first crack at sending the Atlanta Hawks home for the summer didn't succeed as the Hawks held on for an 87-86 win.

When you look at the C's historically, Tuesday's outcome wasn't a total shock.

Under Doc Rivers, the Celtics are now 9-13 in close-out games.

On the road, they're 2-10 in such games.

As much as Tuesday's loss falls in line with what the C's have done in the past, there's no masking the fact that this was a game that was there for the Celtics to take.

Based on how the previous three games had gone, the Hawks' confidence was fading fast.

But Boston allowed Atlanta to have life in the second quarter, allowed them to pull ahead before a Rajon Rondo-led rally made it a tight game again. And down the stretch, Boston simply squandered one opportunity after another to get the win.

"It's a make or miss league," said Paul Pierce, who made seven shots and missed 10. "We had our opportunities down the stretch. They played with a lot of energy and a lot of pride. They had their backs to the wall and won a close one."

Boston's inability to make the clutch baskets down the stretch ultimately sealed their fate and was indeed one of the main factors in the game's outcome. Here are some other keys discussed prior to the game, and how they ultimately played out.

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.

WHAT WE SAW: Rondo's game was symbolic of how the Celtics played as a team - brilliant for some stretches, bad for others. He was the main reason why the Celtics were able to erase a double-digit deficit in the third quarter and give the C's a fighting chance to steal the victory. He had 13 points and 12 assists, but shot just 6-for-17 from the field.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson: This has been a surprisingly lopsided matchup thus far - but not how you expected it to 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, and 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.

WHAT WE SAW: This matchup was a literal standstill, with Pierce scoring 16 points on 7-for-17 shooting and Johnson tallying 15 points on 6-for-17 shooting. More telling was the impact each made while they were on the floor. With Pierce in the game, the C's were minus-13. With Johnson? The Hawks were plus-2.

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.

WHAT WE SAW: Without question, Al Horford was the biggest impact player in this game. His 19 points and 11 rebounds only tell part of the story of how he single-handedly kept the Hawks' season alive. Clinging to an 87-86 lead, his defense in the game's closing seconds forced Rajon Rondo to lose the ball out of bounds and with that, sealed a must-win game for Atlanta to keep their season alive. "I tried to make a play but got caught on the baseline," Rondo said. "Give Al credit. I just didn't come up with the shot."

STAT TO TRACK: You had to bank on Kevin Garnett dominating the series with whoever 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.

WHAT WE SAW: The change with Horford at center paid huge dividends for the Hawks in ways besides him just scoring. Atlanta was plus-8 on the boards, which was one of their best rebounding efforts against the Celtics in this series. He also had three blocked shots, which equalled the output of the entire Celtics team. "He was a superman for us down the stretch," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. Said Horford: "You're fighting for your life out there. I wanted to bring energy to the team tonight. We needed to win this game."

Celtics should roll the dice on Dragan Bender

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Celtics should roll the dice on Dragan Bender

Danny Ainge recently hinted on Toucher & Rich that the Celtics were interested in drafting Dragan Bender.

And they need to do exactly that. 

No, I'm not crazy. Neither is Danny.

Drafting Bender is the Celtics' best option. As Ainge pointed out, his job is to make the move that's best for the team. Not just for the short term, but for the long haul.

Now, I can't say I've been to Croatia to work out Bender. Like many of you, I 've only seen him via the Internet.

It is easy to look at him and think he’s a project. That’s because he is. He’s 18 and, even though he's 7 feet tall, he only weighs about 220 soaking wet. He's a kid, too skinny at the moment for the NBA, and would no doubt get killed if you put in the post today.

And, like I said, I'm not crazy. I'm not committed to Bender. If  Sacramento calls and offers Boogie Cousins for any combination of picks the Celtics have, the deal should be made immediately. To a degree, I feel the same way about Jimmy Butler. However, the consensus is those two players aren't going anywhere. (And even if they are available, suppose the Lakers decide to dangle the No. 2 pick for either of them? That would make a trade nearly impossible for Boston.)

But if the Celtics keep the third pick -- and he isn't taken by either Philly or L.A. (highly unlikely) -- Dragen Bender should be Ainge's choice. And it will be the right move.

Let’s break it down.

There's just no one else in this draft with Bender's upside. Buddy Hield is a 22-year-old shooting guard who completely disappeared in the NCAA championship game. He has a shot to be a very good NBA player, but he won’t transform the organization. Neither would Jamal Murray from Kentucky. Nor Kris Dunn from Providence.

The risk for Bender is HUGE. The reward is even HUGER. Ah, that’s not a word, right? Well then, BIGGER THAN HUGE! Or HUGEST!

Bender could be that guy.

And, I also admit, he also wind up playing in Europe or Israel.

Still, Danny has to roll the dice on this guy.

Bender can handle the ball, block shots, shoot the 3, and -- like all European players -- is fundamentally sound. The issue for this kid is toughness in the low post and getting stronger. I put my money on Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo to get him ready for NBA life.

And I'm not one those boneheads who are pushing for Bender because Kristaps Porzingis has worked out for the Knicks. One has nothing to do with the other. For every Porzingis there's at least one Stojko Vrankovic. Or Darko Milicic.

Take Bender, Danny. In two years this guy may have gained 15 to 20 pounds of muscle, learned the rigors on and off the court of the NBA, and look like the next Porzingis, Or Dirk Nowitzki or Porzingis. Then use the other two Brooklyn first-round picks, and the Celtics could be back on their way to greatness.

But if you play it safe, Danny, and don't take Bender, the Green will simply be stuck in the mud of mediocrity.  

Ben Bentil ready for opportunity to showcase his talents in the NBA

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Ben Bentil ready for opportunity to showcase his talents in the NBA

BOSTON – Opportunity.

Ben Bentil learned at an early age to recognize it and in doing so, make the most of it when it presents itself.

That’s how a 15-year-old kid from Ghana, who grew up wanting to be a professional volleyball player at one point winds up playing basketball and soccer at one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the United States (St. Andrews School in Wilmington, Del., which is where the move Dead Poets Society was filmed in 1989).

That’s how that same kid goes from being a role-playing freshman at Providence College last season, to the Big East’s leading scorer a year later – and doing so in the shadows of Kris Dunn, a high-scoring guard who is a consensus top-10 pick in next month’s NBA draft.

“I’m glad I had the best point guard in the country on my team,” Bentil, who averaged a Big East-leading 21.1 points per game this past season for Providence, told CSNNE.com. “We took advantage of it.”

And with the June 23 NBA draft on the horizon, Bentil once again finds himself in position to make the most of an opportunity that so few saw coming this quickly in his career.

“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” said Bentil who averaged 6.4 points and five rebounds per game as a freshman.

A journey that by all accounts is far from over.

Prior to deciding to stay in this year’s draft, the sophomore big man wanted to see how he stacked up against other draft hopefuls at the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago. He took advantage of a new rule that allows college players to participate in the combine and return to college if they don’t sign with an agent.

This would prove to be yet another opportunity that Bentil made the most of.

In his first game, he had 15 points and 11 rebounds in just 20 minutes.

The next day he had 17 points and six rebounds in just 19 minutes.

Those strong performances combined with really good feedback from NBA executives at the combine and afterwards, made Bentil’s decision to stay in the draft a no-brainer.

A league executive contacted by CSNNE.com in reference to Bentil said he’s “a solid second round pick now,” adding, “and could work his way into the late first-round depending on workouts.”

A second league executive contacted by CSNNE.com via text on Tuesday morning echoed similar sentiments.

“Good second round pick,” the text read. “Could impress teams, play his way into mid-to-late 20s of first round.”

That jibes with the factors Bentil said would likely need to be in place for him to stay in the draft.

“If I know I’ll go in those ranges, I’ll probably stay in,” Bentil said.

In addition to his scoring and rebounding, Bentil also eased the concerns a number of teams had about his size.

At the combine he measured out at 6-8 ¼ with a solid 7-1 ½ wingspan. In addition, Bentil’s hand length was 9.50 inches, which tied 7-footer Dedric Lawson for the longest hands at the combine. Bentil also showed his shooting touch from the perimeter as he knocked down 14-of-25 NBA 3s taken from five different spots on the floor.

And at Providence, the Friars did a lot of switching defensively which often meant Bentil had to guard smaller, seemingly quicker players – the kind of challenge he’ll face in the NBA where teams live on a healthy diet of pick-and-roll sets.

Knowing that Bentil has the quickness to hold his own defensively on switches and the length to where being undersized won’t be as big a detriment as feared on the boards or in getting his shots off offensively, Bentil finds himself in good shape to take advantage of what should be increased opportunities leading up to next month’s draft.

Bentil worked out for five teams initially, but a representative with Octagon basketball told CSNNE.com that Bentil’s list of teams to work out for will be expanded. In addition, Octagon has a pro workout day this week with several teams (the Celtics are expected to be among them) having representatives in attendance to watch the workouts of Octagon clients.

And that will present yet another opportunity – there’s that word again – for Bentil to showcase his talents.