Celtics-Hawks Game 4 review: C's look to close series

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Celtics-Hawks Game 4 review: C's look to close series

BOSTON The Boston Celtics are not ready to look past the Atlanta Hawks, not with them needing another win to officially eliminate them from the playoffs.

The C's are in this position because they handled their business at home, a trend that dates all the way back to the all-star break.

Since then, the Celtics are 15-1 at home which includes a 101-79 Game 4 win over Atlanta that gave them a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

During the regular season, the C's were 24-9 at home.

Only the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat had a better home mark among Eastern Conference teams.

With the No. 7-seed Philadelphia Sixers up 3-1 on the Derrick Rose-less (and for Game 4, Joakim Noah-less as well) Chicago Bulls, Boston may actually wind up with home court advantage in the next round of the playoffs.

The C's know they must first dispose of the Hawks.

As much as the C's love giving their home fans plenty to cheer about, they would just as soon close this series out in the Hawks' Philips Arena on Tuesday.

"It's a great opportunity," said Boston's Keyon Dooling. "I just feel like it won't be an easy task. We gotta come in with the right frame of mind. We have to be focused and we have to go down there and compete. They will be a desperate team. They don't want to go out like this. I think they'll come out clawing and scratching. We have to be prepared to match their energy."

Defending home court was indeed a motivating factor for the Celtics on Sunday. Here are some of the keys discussed prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

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."

WHAT WE SAW: Josh Smith was clearly not himself on Sunday. Even at less-than-full strength, the 6-foot-9 forward was once again a player the Celtics had trouble containing. Smith finished with 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting, along with a game-high 13 rebounds. "Smooth (Smith) is an incredible player," Dooling said. "He's a guy who can affect the game in four or five statistical categories. But you could tell he wasn't at full strength, and we wanted to exploit that."
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.

WHAT WE SAW: Bradley only had six points, but five came during a critical stretch in the first quarter that broke a 6-all tie and set the Celtics' blowout win in motion. The left shoulder injury that made his availability a game-time decision, isn't going to get much better anytime soon. "It's something that I'll continue to get treatment on," Bradley said. "It'll get better eventually."

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce has been giving the Celtics about as much as he can after three games, averaging 23 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.4 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.

WHAT WE SAW: We have seen Pierce have some pretty efficient nights, and Sunday's win was another one. He finished with a game-high 24 points, doing so in just under 17 minutes. He saw limited action in part because of the blowout nature of the game, but also because of a left knee injury that he suffered in the C's morning shoot-around and re-aggravated it during Sunday's game. "It's a little bit sore now," Pierce said. " So Doc (Rivers) just wanted me to take precautions tonight, especially when we had such a big lead."

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.

WHAT WE SAW: Because the Celtics jumped out to such a commanding lead and the game wasn't all that close except for maybe the first three or four minutes, free throw shooting never developed into a factor in the game's outcome. The Hawks were 13-for-17 from the line compared to the Celtics who were 8-for-13.

Danny Ainge tweets photo from scouting trip in Croatia

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Danny Ainge tweets photo from scouting trip in Croatia

Where in the world is Danny Ainge? The Celtics president of basketball operations let everyone know on Wednesday by sharing a photo from Croatia.

The tweet shows Kresimir Cosic and Drazen Petrovic pictured on a wall and the caption: “Two of my all-time favorite players and people.”

Here’s the photo:

Ainge spent two seasons playing with Petrovic, and Cosic went to BYU, Ainge’s alma mater.

But Ainge isn’t in Croatia sightseeing. He’s scouting. With the 2016 NBA Draft less than one month away, we're entering crunch time of draft preparations.

Cibona Zagreb has two draft prospects on their roster: Ante Zizic and Nik Slavica.

Zizic is likely the player Ainge had his eyes on. He’s a 6-foot-11 center who has endless energy on the floor and bullies opponents with his bulk in the paint. With three first-round picks, the Celtics might have to draft-and-stash one of their prospects. Zizic could be on their radar with the No. 23 pick in the first-round.

Cibona won Game 2 of the Croatian League's semi-final playoff game 8-81 over Zadar. Zizic had a solid stat line with 12 points and 13 rebounds playing in front of Ainge.

But you're probably wondering about Dragan Bender. He plays on Thursday in Tel Aviv, Israel. If Ainge makes the nine-hour flight over the Mediterranean Sea he'll get a first-hand look at their potential choice with the third pick.

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.