Celtics-Hawks review: What we saw


Celtics-Hawks review: What we saw

ATLANTA The Boston Celtics are not the kind of team that gets too giddy about what some might construe as a quality loss.

But Friday's 97-92 loss at Atlanta just may qualify as the lone exception.

Boston had no business keeping the game close, let alone being in position to win it in the final minutes.

And there they were, playing without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett who were given the night off.

No Mickael Pietrus (knee), Ray Allen (ankle) or Rajon Rondo (back) either, with all back in Boston nursing their respective injuries.

"Nobody gave us a chance in hell tonight," said Celtics guardforward Marquis Daniels. "We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We were a couple shots away from it."

And that shot at winning was fueled by what on many stretches resembled the Celtics' "C" team of players at the very end of the bench that delivered in a big, bad way for the Celtics all game against an Atlanta team that played their usual rotation players close to their usual minutes.

"Even though we didn't win, I felt like we took steps forward as a team," said Boston's Avery Bradley who led all C's with a career-high 28 points. "It was an opportunity for us to improve, and a lot of our guys did that."

Boston's cut-and-paste second unit kept the game close with a number of hustle plays such as steals, deflections and contesting shots. But surprisingly, they held their offensively as well, tallying 29 points compared to 30 for Atlanta's second unit.

Even though the Hawks got the win, it was clear that Atlanta head coach Larry Drew didn't feel overly enthused with how the game played out.

"As far as I'm concerned, whether Boston won or not, they accomplished what they wanted," Drew said. "To have his reserves come out and compete at a high level, and to take us down to the wire the way they did."

Bench play certainly gave the Celtics a shot at pulling off the major upset. Here are some other keys outlined prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR If the Celtics keep as many guys out as expected tonight, Avery Bradley may be the team's best scoring option among the starters. It'll be interesting to see what kind of impact he can make when more attention is paid to him offensively, and he doesn't have the benefit of Rajon Rondo at the point or Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the floor creating space for him to work.

WHAT WE SAW: Avery Bradley continues to make a last-minute dash for the league's Most Improved award, showing that he can indeed deliver offensively without the usual set of Hall of Famers or all-stars around him. He scored a career-high 28 points, his third game with 20 or more points in Boston's last four. "Avery played a terrific game in a lot of areas that really helped us tonight," said C's coach Doc Rivers.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Sasha Pavlovic vs. Joe Johnson: This matchup will be decided in the first quarter most likely. If Pavlovic can come out and hit a couple shots early, his defense will actually get better Johnson. It's weird, I know. No one is under any disillusions that Pavlovic is going to shut Johnson down. But if he can keep him from being an efficient scorer, the C's will have a much better chance at victory.

WHAT WE SAW: Joe Johnson, arguably the best crab-dribbler in the NBA, was much, much, much too much for Pavlovic to handle. Pavlovic didn't take a single shot until the second quarter. By that point, Johnson was well on his way to a game-high 30 points - 23 of which came in the first half. Pavlovic finished with four points on 2-for-3 shooting.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Keyon Dooling is expected to get the start tonight, which should take some of the ball-handling pressure off Bradley. Dooling needs to be more than just a facilitator. He needs to provide the Celtics with a bit of scoring, something he has not done much of this season. He's averaging a career-low 3.5 points per game this season and has not reached double figures scoring since scoring 10 points at New Orleans on Dec. 28.

WHAT WE SAW: Dooling was very aggressive offensively in the first half, scoring 10 of his season-high 17 points. Just as impressive was how efficient he was, connecting on seven of his 10 shots from the field along with racking up three assists without a single turnover.

STAT TO TRACK: Both Boston and Atlanta rank among the bottom-10 in the NBA in rebounds per game, so winning the battle on the boards will be huge. The C's rank dead-last with 38.8 per game while the Hawks are No. 23 with 41.3 per game. In the two previous games, both Celtics wins, the C's have averaged winning the boards by six per game.

WHAT WE SAW: The Hawks played without center Zaza Pachulia, but it didn't matter on this night. Atlanta was plus-8 on the boards against Boston which more than anything else, prevented the C's from getting out and running as much as they would have liked. Despite coming up short on the boards, Boston still managed to tally more second-chance points (14) than the Hawks (12) in addition to outscoring Atlanta in the paint, 44-36.

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

Haggerty: Subban looking more like a 1st-round bust than NHL goalie

BOSTON, Mass – Malcolm Subban says that he believes that he can still be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

While that’s admirable on some level for the sheer, brazen self-confidence involved in saying this after getting yanked from a 5-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden, pretty much all of the evidence points out the contrary. Nearly two years after getting pulled from his NHL debut in against the St. Louis Blues after giving up three goals on six shots, Subban was pulled from Tuesday night’s appearance after giving up three goals on eight second period shots with the Bruins desperately in need of a quality start in goal.

He maintained a defiantly confident tone after another humbling NHL effort against Minnesota, and that’s a testament to the maturity and mental toughness of the person behind the goalie mask.

“It sucks. Obviously, I’m just trying to finish the game, let alone win one. Obviously it sucks, but what can you do now, right?” said Subban, who has now allowed six goals on 22 career shots faced in two starts. “Obviously I want to be a number one goaltender in the league. I was a high pick for a reason. I have the potential, and I just have to show it. Obviously I haven’t done that so far yet, but I think I’m getting closer to it. Honestly, I think I can do it right now. I just got to show it. Obviously, I didn’t [do it] today, but tomorrow’s a new day.”

Given the stunningly bad quality of his two NHL starts combined with a thoroughly pedestrian body of work at the AHL level over the last three years, there is literally zero tangible evidence Subban is tracking to be a franchise goaltender. Instead he’s the emergency goaltender called on by the Bruins only after Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have both been shelved by injuries, and he’s now flunked the two pop quizzes when the NHL team needed him to come through.

Meanwhile, a sizeable selection of goaltenders taken after him in the 2012 NHL Draft class have already proven their NHL worth and broken through at the elite level: Matt Murray, Frederik Anderson, Connor Hellebuyck and Joonas Korpisalo.

Subban was hoping all along to break through this season in Boston, but things went south on him quickly with a Bruins team not playing well in front of him. The first goal was a fluttering Charlie Coyle shot that trickled between his glove hand and the top of his leg pad. The third goal was a softie low and to the glove side, power play strike authored by Ryan Suter. It added up to poor goaltending and shoddy defense, but it also added up to a Bruins goaltender that didn’t even give his hockey club a chance to win.

“It could be a combination of both. There are some goals – I’m not going to lie – there are some goals that we thought our goaltenders should have had. But I’m not here to talk about a goaltender who’s in one of his first few games because he let in a couple of bad goals,” said Julien. “We were terrible in front of him and we weren’t any better, and that’s the big picture. That’s more important.

“I don’t care who’s in net. I think when you have some injuries you need to be better in those situations and we weren’t good enough tonight. It doesn’t matter if Tuukka [Rask] is in net and we had injuries up front, or we’re lacking players here or there. You’ve got to let the system take care of the game. If you play it the right way, you have a chance to win. When you don’t, you don’t. That’s what happened [against Minnesota].”

There’s no question the defense in front of Subban wasn’t nearly good enough, and Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug in particular struggled to lock things down in the defensive zone. The wide open shots from the slot - like the Chris Stewart score in the second period that arrived 12 seconds after Minnesota’s opening goal - are indicative of a hockey club that’s not sticking to the game plan once things start to get a little wonky.

But this is about a player in Subban that should be entering the NHL stage of his career after being a first round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and anybody would be hard-pressed to see him as an NHL goalie after failing in each of his first two NHL starts. Combine that with the lack of dominance at the AHL level over the last three years, and there’s a better chance that Subban will be a major first round bust for the Bruins rather than suddenly develop into a late-blooming No. 1 goaltender in Boston.

The scary part is that Subban and fellow young netminder Zane McIntyre are all the Bruins have for Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden, and perhaps longer than that if Rask can’t make rapid progress with his lower body injury.

Maybe Subban can be a bit better than he’s shown thus far, and the four goals allowed to Minnesota were not all his fault. The bottom line, however, is that Subban should be up for doing this job right now. Tuesday was a big chance for the young goalie to make a statement that he was ready for it.

Instead he looked like the same goalie that’s been pulled from two of his first four AHL starts this season, and plays like a goaltender that’s never going to truly be ready for the call in Boston.