ATLANTA The Boston Celtics weren't perfect. They made mistakes, turned the ball over and for stretches, couldn't make shots.
It doesn't matter.
Paul Pierce and company would not be denied as the Celtics rallied for an 87-80 Game 2 win over the Atlanta Hawks to even the series at one game each with Games 3 and 4 headed back to the Garden.
With the win, Boston now has home court advantage in the best-of-seven series.
While it was truly a team win, it was Pierce leading the charge from the outset. He finished with a game-high 36 points and 14 rebounds for his 22nd career playoff double-double.
The C's spent most of the game trailing, but as they've done so many times, they proved to be a resilient bunch.
There was no mistaking that the Celtics were playing a better brand of basketball compared to their Game 1 struggles, especially in their transition defense.
In addition, Boston also got a more aggressive start by Paul Pierce who scored Boston's first nine points.
The C's spent most of the first quarter with the lead, but a 5-2 spurt by the Hawks to close out the quarter led to a 24-all tie going into the second quarter.
After a slew of defensive stops and an occasional basket, Boston strung together back-to-back baskets to take a 34-29 lead before Hawks coach Larry Drew called a time-out.
The stoppage in play was just what Atlanta needed as the Hawks reeled off nine straight to take a 38-34 lead and eventually went into the half ahead, 44-41.
For Boston, Pierce was carrying the scoring load in the first half with 16 points which was impressive considering the defensive help he was looking for in the first half from Mickael Pietrus was nowhere to be found for most of the first half.
Pietrus, in the starting lineup because of Rajon Rondo's one game suspension for making contact with an official, was whistled for three fouls in the first four minutes of play and spent the bulk of the half on the bench.
As for the Hawks, it was Jeff Teague keeping them afloat for key stretches in the first half in which he had 12 points and four rebounds. Josh Smith, who ate the Celtics alive in Game 1, was trending towards a triple-double with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists in the first half.
Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Kelly Olynyk. For a look at the other profiles, click here.
BOSTON – The Celtics went into the playoffs last season well short of being at full strength. No player exemplified this more than Kelly Olynyk, a non-factor in postseason due to a right shoulder injury that required surgery in May.
He comes into this season facing a much stiffer route to playing time than his previous four seasons. While Jared Sullinger (Toronto) is gone, Boston brings in four-time All-Star Al Horford, in addition to returners Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller and second-year big man Jordan Mickey, who is in line for a more expanded role this season.
Throw in the fact that Olynyk and the Celtics can reach terms on an extension before the start of the season (an unlikely occurrence because frankly it’s to both Boston and Olynyk’s benefit for him to be a restricted free agent next summer), and it’s clear just how important this season is to all involved.
Here’s a look at Olynyk’s ceiling as well as the floor for his game heading into this season.
The ceiling for Olynyk: Starter, Most Improved Player candidate
Kelly Olynyk has proven himself to be a much better contributor coming off the bench as opposed to starting. But no one will be shocked if Olynyk can play his way into a spot with the first group. A 7-footer with legit 3-point range, Olynyk has shown flashes throughout his career of being a major problem for opponents because of his stretch-big skills.
And when teams have been a bit too eager in closing out or failed to box him out on a rebound, Olynyk has shown us all that “the bounce is real.”
He already ranks among the best big-man shooters all-time and needs just one made 3-pointer to join Dirk Nowitzki (1,701) and Andrea Bargnani (627) as the only 7-footers in league history with 500 or more made 3s.
In addition to making lots of 3s, Olynyk does it at a fairly efficient rate which can be seen in him shooting 40.5 percent on 3s last season which was tops among all NBA centers and made him one of just 20 players in the NBA to shoot at least 40 percent on 3s.
Although Olynyk’s defense has been considered among his biggest weaknesses, his defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions on the floor) of 97.7 was tops among Celtics players who logged at least 20 minutes per game last season.
If he can build off that, as well as continue to make teams pay with his long-range shooting, Olynyk could be one of the breakout performers this season for the Celtics and find himself on the short list of the NBA’s most improved players.
The bigger issue with Olynyk centers around his struggles holding position in the post as a rebounder. Because he’s a stretch big, you know he’s not going to haul in a ton of boards for you.
But he has to be better than last season when he grabbed 4.1 rebounds, which continued what has been a career regression in this area.
After averaging 5.2 boards as a rookie, he slipped to 4.7 in his second season and averaged a career-low 4.1 last season.
The floor for Olynyk: Active roster
Talk to anyone within the Celtics organization and they will not hesitate to point out the skillset that Olynyk has and how important he could potentially be for this team going forward.
Still, that’s part of the problem.
Olynyk has shown promise to be more than just a player in the rotation. He has the kind of skills that if he were to deliver them with more consistency, he would immediately become one of the team’s standout performers which would make Boston a much, much tougher team to defend.
But his game has been one marred by injuries and inconsistent play which, as you might expect, go hand-in-hand.
Even with what has been an uneven career, Olynyk has still managed to be a double-digit scorer in each of the past two seasons.
And his net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) of +5.2 is tops among players logging 20 or more minutes, too.
But even if he doesn’t elevate his game defensively or become a more reliable rebounder for Boston, Olynyk won’t be suiting up in street clothes as a healthy scratch anytime soon.
Olynyk has too much talent, and when you look at this Celtics roster, he fits a clear and well-defined need.
Pace and space remain keys to what Brad Stevens is trying to do with the Celtics and Olynyk’s strengths are an ideal addition.
But as we have seen with Stevens in the past, he’s not afraid to take a player out of the starting lineup or regular rotation, and bench them from time to time.
Just as it won’t surprise anyone to see Olynyk play a more prominent role potentially as a starter, the same is true if he struggles and finds himself racking up a few DNP-CDs (did not play- coaches decision) either.
But Olynyk has too much talent to fall too far off the Celtics’ radar, especially when you look at this roster and realize there’s no other player quite like him in terms of combining size, skill and perimeter shooting.
In this episode, we sit-down with one of the best basketball writers in the country, Jackie MacMullan. Jackie covered the Celtics for the Boston Globe for several years, and collaborated with Larry Bird on his auto-biography.
Jim Aberdale, producer of CSN’s documentary on the ‘86 Celtics, talks with MacMullan about the bitter rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers during the 80’s, how the tragedies the Celtics faced following the ‘86 title were difficult to believe, and covering the Golden Age of the NBA.
Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Marcus Smart. For a look at the other profiles, click here.
BOSTON -- As a member of the USA Select Team this summer, Marcus Smart had a chance to play with and against some of the NBA's best.
Not surprisingly, Smart played physical defense.
He made a few shots, too.
Smart delivered the kind of all-around performance in Las Vegas that left an indelible impression as to the potential he has to become one of the better guards in the NBA someday.
But will that day be this season?
After all, Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star point guard and his backcourt mate Avery Bradley is a first-team All-NBA defender. Their presence has certainly limited some of the opportunities Smart has had to display his skills.
But that won’t keep him off the floor this season or from logging significant minutes as the Celtics look to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings.
Here’s a look at the ceiling for Smart’s game this season as well as the floor. The ceiling for Smart: Starter, All-NBA defensive selection
Smart continues to make his mark on the NBA with his defense, combining some really nifty physical skills with an absolute bad-ass mentality towards locking up whoever he's assigned to defend.
The 6-foot-4 Smart will tackle smaller guards like Matthew Dellavedova, or play a little bump-and-grind on the block with 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis. Stints defending elite scorers like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are part of the job defensively for Smart, as well.
Of course, Smart gets a heavy dose of praise for his physical play defensively, but so much of what he does centers around his hustle and overall effort.
In what was a season which Smart’s hustle play was recognized with a few All-NBA Defensive Team votes, one of the more memorable moments came when he was able to out-hustle San Antonio’s Tony Parker for a loose ball, leadin g to a Boston lay-up.
But any tale about Smart’s effort defensively has to also include some mention of flopping, something he's been accused of from time to time. And on more than one occasion he's been guilty of this, without question.
Still, with his aggressiveness and resume full of difference-making, high impact plays in his first two NBA seasons, there’s no reason to doubt Smart will become officially one of the league’s top defenders and occupy a spot on the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams sooner or later, and with that a potential spot as a starter.
For that latter point to happen, Smart’s shooting has to improve appreciably. Last season he shot 25.3 percent on 3s, with a career 29.6 percent shooting mark from 3-point range.
With Evan Turner (Portland) no longer with the Celtics, Smart should have a few more opportunities to score now than he had in the past.
And while no deal is imminent, Bradley’s name was among those thrown around as possibly being on the move this season. If the Celtics decide to go that route, that, too, would open up an opportunity for Smart to become a starter.
The floor for Smart: Rotation player
If Smart doesn’t make the kind of strides he and the Celts are aiming for this season, worst-case scenario is he will remain a player in the Celtics’ regular rotation.
His versatility as a defender is just too valuable to leave at the end of their bench, regardless of how much he may struggle at times offensively.
If he continues to struggle, the more he’ll be seen as a one-dimensional (defense) player and with that, see his role -- and potential playing time -- more limited.
But coming off the bench, Smart has shown himself capable of holding his own as a defender against some of the backcourt scorers in the NBA.
Lou Williams, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2015, was a 33.3 percent shooter against Smar,t according to nbasavant.com. Other big-time scorers such as Westbrook (4-for-11, 36.4 percent), Kemba Walker (3-for-11, 27.3 percent) and high-scoring guard James Harden (3-for-10, 30 percent) have all had their share of struggles knocking down shots when Smart has been defending them.
Both Smart and the Celtics are optimistic that his shooting will only improve with time. But in case he continues to have problems, Boston can take solace in the fact that it has one of the more promising, up-and-coming defenders in Smart, whose play at that end of the floor is good enough to where minutes will continue to come his way regardless of what he contributes offensively.