What we saw: Celtics-Hawks preview review


What we saw: Celtics-Hawks preview review

BOSTON The Boston Celtics are never going to be a dominant rebounding team this season. But they continue to make progress, as was the case in their 88-86 overtime win against Atlanta. Boston wound up with a season-high 56 rebounds, which is impressive. The fact that they only allowed the Hawks 39 -- a 17 rebound difference -- was remarkable.

"Well, you're not going to see it a whole bunch, but we'll take it," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "We rebounded very well."

Brandon Bass was among the C's to have a big night on the boards, finishing with 10 rebounds to go along with 21 points.

"We needed a night like that to build on," he said. "We've been struggling on the boards; that's an area we wanted to improve on. I just hope we can keep it going."

Boston's board work was a major reason for the C's winning their fourth straight game. Here we'll review other keys to the C's win identified prior to tip-off, and how those factors played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Regardless of whether the Celtics played last night, the Hawks are going to come out looking to run. It makes sense when you consider they are the younger team, and getting out in transition has been one of their best traits all season. Atlanta averages 15.8 fast-break points this season (No. 8 in the NBA), a figure that will be challenged by a Celtics defense that's giving up just 12 fast-break points per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: Atlanta had some success early on getting out and running, but the C's kept them in check for most of the game. The Hawks finished the night with 12 fast-break points compared to 10 for the Celtics.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. Joe Johnson: Once again Bradley will find himself matched up with a taller player at the shooting guard position. But what makes Johnson such a tough cover is his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, or pull up for jumpers. Give Bradley credit. He has managed to make some of the NBA's best (Dwyane Wade, for example) have off nights. He'll look to continue that trend against Johnson, one of the most efficient shooting guards in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: Bradley was one of several defenders on Johnson, who had just 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting. The C's defense was especially up for the challenge near the end of regulation when the Hawks made a point of trying to get Johnson to take the last shot. However, he was unable to because of the Celtics' aggressive double-team that forced him to give the ball up.

"That's why I really didn't want to run a pick-and-roll because I knew (Rajon) Rondo was going to jump out there and try and trap me to get the ball."

PLAYER TO WATCH: Atlanta's Josh Smith is a phenomenal talent except when he plays against Boston. In his lone game against the Celtics this season, he had 10 points on 5-for-20 shooting. He has faced the C's 24 times in his career, averaging 12.3 points per game. Of the teams he has played against 24 or more times, Smith's scoring, rebounding (6.7) and field goal percentage (.403), are worst against Boston than any other team.

WHAT WE SAW: Smith had one of his better games against Boston, scoring 20 points to go with 11 rebounds and five assists. But when the game mattered most, Smith failed to deliver. He failed to make a basket in the fourth quarter or overtime, which wound up being just a part of all that went wrong for the Hawks down the stretch.

STAT TO TRACK: Although both Boston and Atlanta have not been among the NBA's top scoring teams this season, both have ratcheted up their bucket-making skills of late. In the last three games by the C's, they are averaging 101.3 points per game which ranks 10th in the NBA during that span. For the season, Boston ranks No. 26. As for the Hawks, they have the 18th-best scoring team this season, but have averaged 112.3 points in the last three games which only trails Phoenix (112.7) during that same span.

WHAT WE SAW: After a fast start offensively by both teams, it became very much a defensive battle for the last three quarters. And in those type of games, the Celtics more often than not, come out ahead. Look no further than overtime, which featured a total of six points combined.

Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?


Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?

BRIGHTON, MASS -- It didn’t take last season’s embarrassing Winter Classic result to figure out something has been missing from the storied, legendary Bruins-Canadiens rivalry over the last few years.

The last traces of the latest, great incarnation of the B’s-Habs rivalry were clearly still there a couple of seasons ago when the two hockey clubs met in the second round of the playoffs. After falling short the last few times the teams met in the postseason, Boston was summarily dismissed by Montreal in Game 7 on their own home ice during that series. The following season the B’s simply had so many of their own players struggling to put out a consistent effort, so the games against the Habs didn’t really register highly on the importance scale, and last season both Boston and Montreal suffered through subpar seasons that saw them each fall short of the playoffs.

Since the second round loss to the Habs in the 2013-14 playoffs, the Bruins are 2-7 while being outscored by a 31-18 margin in nine regular season meetings over the last two seasons in an incredibly one-sided chapter in the two teams’ shared history. The real lack of competitiveness has been a noticeable lack of deep emotion or ill will on the ice between the two hockey clubs, and that is very different from the recent past when signature players like Milan Lucic, P.K. Subban and Shawn Thornton were card-carrying members of healthy hate that regularly spilled out on the ice between the two rival NHL organizations.

Instead it will probably be new blood that breathes glorious, hard-edged life into the history between the two Original Six teams, and new personalities like David Backes, Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw are likely to do just that. Certainly the Canadiens wanted to be much more difficult to play against in recruiting players like Shaw and Weber, and, their presence along with the offensively explosive Alex Radulov, could make it a tough matchup for the Black and Gold.

Either way, the Bruins are curious to see what the matchup looks like this season with the electric P.K. Subban removed from the mix as one of the classic Habs villain-type characters from a Boston perspective.

“It’s always fun to play Montreal at home, or in Montreal. This will be our second time counting the preseason, and our first time at the Garden. It’s going to be pretty cool,” said David Krejci. “When you say any NHL team there are a few names that pop out for that team, and [P.K. Subban] was definitely one of them [for Montreal]. But P.K. is gone, and now it’s Shea Weber. So it’s going to be a little different, but he’s a hell of a player as well so it isn’t going to be any easier.

“It’s a big game. It’s a division game. We don’t want to take any game lightly within the 82 games because you don’t know what can happen at the end. When those games against [Montreal] are done you always feel like you’ve played two games, and not just one. It’s high intensity, and it’s obviously a rivalry that you get up for.”

As Bruins head coach Claude Julien would say it, things are a bit too civilized between the two enemy teams when thinking back to the days of Georges Laraque chasing Milan Lucic around the ice challenging him a fight on the Bell Centre ice, or the awful epoch in B’s-Habs history when Zdeno Chara clobbered Max Pacioretty with a dangerous, injury-inducing hit into the stanchion area.

Nobody is looking for players to get hurt on borderline plays when the two teams suit up on Saturday night, but something to introduce a new chapter into the Boston-Montreal rivalry would be a good thing for both teams, a good thing for the fans and a potentially great thing for an NHL that prides itself on good, old-fashioned rivalries.

“We need to make sure that we’re ready to play [on Saturday]. I like the way that we’ve played so far, and except for Toronto we’ve managed to compete with all of the teams that we’ve played against,” said Julien. “I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way, but I’m going to use the word that [the rivalry] has been more civilized for the last few years. There hasn’t been as much of the sideshow as there has been [in the past].

“I think there’s still a lot of hatred between the two organizations when they meet, but I think the way the game is trending, and how costly that penalties can be in a game, both teams are a little cautious in that way. I still think there is great intensity and both teams get up for the games, so hopefully that happens tomorrow, and the fans get to see a good game.”

One thing that should ensure a good, familiar showdown with plenty of hard-hitting and honest-to-goodness rivalry-like behavior: both the Canadiens and Bruins are off to strong starts at the top of the Atlantic Division in the first couple of weeks this season, and there are some new faces that are undoubtedly going to want to announce their presence for these Bruins-Habs tilts with authority.

Let’s hope this happens because last season’s Bruins-Habs games needed a pair of jumper cables and 1.21 jigowatts of electricity to shock them back into their elevated level of intensity, and that’s when hockey is served best after all.