Blakely: Celtics vs. Hawks position matchups

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Blakely: Celtics vs. Hawks position matchups

ATLANTA - Paul Pierce is no stranger to tough matchups. The small forward position for most teams is often the one that features the most talented player on the roster. And the Atlanta Hawks and their 3-man, Joe Johnson.

"He's one of the better one-on-one players in the league," Pierce said. "He's right up there with (Oklahoma City's) Kevin Durant, Carmelo (Anthony of the New York Knicks) I'm going to have my work cut out for me. I just have to be ready to take on the challenge."

Pierce's matchup with Johnson will certainly be one that fans will be glued to watching throughout this playoff series.

But by no means is it the only one to watch.

Here's a glimpse at a number of other matchups to watch in this series, and which team comes in with the advantage.

POINT GUARD - Rajon Rondo vs. Jeff Teague

Teague is indeed one of the most improved players in the NBA this season, with career highs in a number of categories. But he is not in the same class as Rondo, a three-time all-star. Rondo led the NBA in assists (11.7) per game this season, the first Celtic to do so since Cousy in 1960. With the Hawks so thin up front, look for Rondo to deliver at least triple-double like performance in this series. And when he's not doing that, look for him to dominate this matchup.

EDGE: BOSTON

SHOOTING GUARD - Avery Bradley vs. Kirk Hinrich

Bradley will likely split time defensively guarding Hinrich and Teague, but it's his offense that has to be of concern for the Hawks. The 6-foot-2 guard had a career-high 28 points in Boston's 97-92 loss at Atlanta earlier this month. Hinrich is a crafty combo guard, but he's going to have trouble keeping up with Bradley whether it's on cuts to the basket or Bradley finding a way to get free for spot-up 3-pointers.

EDGE: BOSTON

SMALL FORWARD - Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson

Here you have two of the NBA's best small forwards at work. Johnson led the Hawks in scoring this season with 18.9 points per game, and was named an all-star for the sixth straight season. Pierce also led the C's in scoring with 19.4 points per game, and he too was an all-star for the 10th time. Johnson will likely score more than Pierce, but the Captain has shown the ability to help the C's win in ways that don't necessarily involve him scoring.

EDGE: EVEN

POWER FORWARD - Brandon Bass vs. Josh Smith

Summary: Bass is a very good offensive player, but this will be a tough series for him. Smith not only has the ability to score in many ways, but he's also one of the better defenders in the NBA. There will be times when Bass will have a bigger (and slower) Hawks defender on him, with Garnett matching up with Smith. The C's have to recognize when Bass has a player like Collins or Ivan Johnson on him, and see what they can get out of Bass in those situations because opportunities to score on Smith will be few and far between.

EDGE: ATLANTA

Center - Kevin Garnett vs. Jason Collins

You can bet that the Hawks will limit the amount of time Collins spends guarding Garnett as much as possible. This is the kind of matchup that validates Boston's decision to play him at center this season. As for Collins, he's a serviceable back-up who has done a decent job of filling in for Al Horford and now, ZaZa Pachulia (foot) who Hawks coach Larry Drew said he does not expect to play in tonight's Game 1 matchup.

EDGE: BOSTON
BENCH

With Atlanta likely utilizing a smaller lineup than usual due to their lack of frontcourt depth, it's hard to get a feel for how much the Celtics will get out of Greg Stiemsma at center. For the Celtics, Mickael Pietrus will most likely be the Celtics reserve who garners the most playing time off the bench. Atlanta counters with an extremely talented bench . . . if we were talking four or five years ago - with Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse. The backups that have to be of greatest concern to the Celtics has to be Marvin Williams and Ivan Johnson, the NBA's rookie of the month for April. Williams played an major role in the 2008 playoff series between these two being pushed to seven games. With Atlanta's injuries in the frontcourt, his ability to rebound the ball will be a huge factor for the Hawks, and although he's an undersized power forward, Johnson has shown a knack for making his presence felt both on the boards and when it comes to scoring. Still, this will be a defensive series and the C's second unit has the advantage - a significant one - in that area.

EDGE: BOSTON

COACHING - Doc Rivers vs. Larry Drew

Summary: Both are among the coaches who did a much better job this season than they will get credit for. Drew's crew finished second in their division yet still managed to win enough games to earn home court advantage in the first round. And Rivers' bunch brushed aside a poor start to finish with a flurry, earn the No. 4 seed after looking as though they weren't going to even make the playoffs. It's hard not to give the nod to Rivers who has had to juggle his lineup - and win - in ways few would have imagined possible at the start of the season. His players rewarded that faith by finishing the season playing their best basketball. And with him providing "strategic rest" for a number of guys, he has prepared them to be fresh both mentally and physically. EDGE: BOSTON

PREDICTION - Celtics in 7 games.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Wizards shoot ridiculous 65 percent from field

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Wizards shoot ridiculous 65 percent from field

After Boston’s last game against Portland – a loss – Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said he was encouraged by some of the things his team did defensively.

It’s safe to say Stevens won’t be singing that tone if the Celtics continue along the path they’re on defensively right now as the Washington Wizards went into the half with a 66-59 lead.

Washington, donning all-black clothes when they arrived at the Verizon Center, were very much looking as though they were digging a basketball grave for the Boston Celtics who allowed the Wizards to shoot a ridiculous 65 percent from the field in the first half and 61.5 percent (8-for-13) from 3-point range.

The Wizards scored the first four points of the game and spent all of the first half playing with a lead.

But the Celtics showed some fight late in the second quarter, going on a 14-6 run to cut Washington’s lead to 55-52 with 3:39 to play in the quarter.

Boston would later have a chance to tie the game, but Marcus Smart’s 3-pointer was off the mark.

And the Wizards, as they had done all game, made the Celtics pay as Bradley Beal drained a jumper that made it a two-possession game.

Here’s a look at the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half.

 

STARS

Bradley Beal

It was his idea to go with the all-Black look, and he backed up his talk with a strong first half of play. He has a team-high 14 points at the half along with five assists.

Isaiah Thomas

Thomas delivered yet another all-star caliber scoring performance in the first half for Boston. He led all scorers with 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting along with a game-high eight assists.  

John Wall

After scoring just nine points when these two met on Jan. 11, Wall has 13 points at the half on 6-for-9 shooting to go with five rebounds and three assists.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

It was an extremely efficient game offensively in the first half for Horford. He had 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting with three assists.

Markieff Morris

He’s one of four double-digit scorers in the first half for the Wizards. In addition to his 10 points, he also has five rebounds and three assists.

 

DUDS

Celtics defense

At this end of the floor, the Celtics were absolutely atrocious in the first half. The Wizards shot a ridiculously high 65 percent from the field, and were just as lethal (8-for-13, 61.5 percent) from 3-point land. They have no shot at competing let alone winning tonight’s game, if they don’t turn things around and do so soon!

Beyond the numbers: 'Game is slowing down' for Isaiah Thomas

Beyond the numbers: 'Game is slowing down' for Isaiah Thomas

Just about every part of Isaiah Thomas’ game offensively has seen tremendous growth this season.

But what has really separated him from earlier versions of himself, has been his 3-point shooting.

He comes into tonight’s game against the Washington Wizards shooting a career best 38.4 percent from 3-point range.

When asked about how he has elevated his game this season, the answer isn’t that simple.

“I don’t know” he told reporters prior to tonight’s game. “The game is slowing down for me. My teammates put me in position, my coach does … and I’m just knocking down shots.”

Because of his shot-making, Thomas has made it difficult for defenses to give him a steady diet of any style of play in trying to limit him.

And because they have to change things up with regularity, that has created more scoring opportunities.

“Sometimes they forget what they want to do (defensively) and leave me open for a three,” Thomas said. “Those are the the types of shots I need to knock down and I’m being aggressive.

He added, “I need to get to the free throw line, trying to make plays for my teammates. It’s one of those things where I’m in a really good zone now; a really good rhythm.”

A good rhythm?

According to NBA statistics guru Dick Lipe, Thomas is the first Celtic ever to make at least four 3-pointers in five straight games. Taking it a step further, he has made at least three 3-pointers in seven straight games which equaled Antoine Walker’s streak in 2001.

Thomas has also attempted 11 three-pointers in five straight games which is a franchise record. There have only been three longer streaks in NBA history - Golden State’s Stephen Curry (7 straight games, 2016); Washington’s Gilbert Arenas (7 straight games, 2005) and Dallas’ George McCloud (6 straight games, 2006).

He’s also averaging 3.1 made 3’s per game which would be a franchise record that’s currently held by Antoine Walker who averaged 2.7 during the 2001-2002 season.

And all those 3’s have added up to Thomas scoring at least 27 points in seven straight games, something that hasn’t been done by a Celtic since Larry Bird had eight such games in March 1988 as well as the 1987-1988 season.