Blakely's Celtics-Hawks Game 5 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Hawks Game 5 preview

ATLANTA Nobody said winning in the playoffs was easy. And closing out a series? Even tougher.

It certainly has been that way for the Boston Celtics under Doc Rivers. For all that Rivers has done well, putting teams away has not been one of them.

Under Rivers' watch, the Celtics are just 9-12 in close-out games.

On the road, Boston's close 'em out woes are even worse, with the C's posting a 2-9 record in such games.

Fortunately for them, they face an Atlanta team that has been even worse when faced with the prospect of being eliminated.

In fact, each of the last three seasons for the Hawks have ended with a playoff loss at home. And the losses have been by a surprisingly lopsided 14.7 points per game margin.

Regardless of what has happened in the past, the Celtics are gearing up for what they believe will be the toughest game of the season.

"I just feel like it won't be an easy task," said Boston's Keyon Dooling. "We gotta come in with the right frame of mind. We have to be focused and we have to 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."

How the C's handle a desperate Hawks team, especially at the start of the game, will go a long way in determining tonight's winner. Here are some other keys to tonight's Game 5 matchup as the Celtics try to close out their first-round series.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Rajon Rondo has been able to shred the Hawks apart in bite-size chunks that the Celtics are simply devouring. If you're Atlanta, you have to find a way to get the ball out of his hands. Don't be surprised if the Hawks look to apply more full-court pressure to Rondo, with the hopes of getting the ball out of his hands and into the hands of Avery Bradley who doesn't handle the ball nearly as well as Rondo. Not only does this take the ball out of the C's best play-maker, but it also kills time on the shot clock which makes it tougher for the Celtics to execute the way they want to offensively.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson: This has been a surprisingly lopsided matchup thus far -- but not how you might have expected it be. Pierce has dominated Johnson, plain and simple. Sure, Pierce has had plenty of help defensively. But here's the thing: The Hawks are one of the league's top-5 teams defensively and Pierce has lit them up throughout the series. As for Johnson, he has yet to have a signature, big-time performance for Atlanta -- the kind of thing your best scorer can't allow to happen. Four games into this series, there are at least five players (Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and for Atlanta, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague) who have had a bigger impact than Johnson. Another rough night for him, and he and the Hawks will have the entire summer to think about why he disappeared when they needed him most.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- For a guy who missed all but 11 games of the 2011-2012 season, Al Horford (12 points, five rebounds) looked pretty good. Not surprisingly, he was pretty fired up once he got on the floor (he hit Greg Stiemsma with an elbow mere seconds after checking into the game, and was called for an offensive foul) and his timing was off early on, but his availability can do nothing but help the Hawks keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

STAT TO TRACK -- You had to bank on Kevin Garnett dominating the series with whomever he matched up against at the center position for the Hawks. But this has been ridiculous. Put it this way: Garnett has had two games in which he scored 20 points. Jason Collins has scored a total of 12 points and aside from Game 1 has not presented much of a fight defensively in limiting Garnett's effectiveness. The return of Al Horford should close the gap at the center position for Atlanta. But even with him back, look for Garnett to still win this matchup -- and with that, the C's to likely close out the series tonight.

Celtics can't complete comeback, fall to Bucks, 103-100

Celtics can't complete comeback, fall to Bucks, 103-100

BOSTON – Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks wasn’t the first time during their impressive run at home that the Boston Celtics found themselves playing from behind most of the game.

But as hard as the Celtics fought, putting together one mini-run after another, it just wasn’t enough to knock off the red-hot Milwaukee Bucks who came away with a 103-100 win. 

The Celtics (48-27) had their four-game winning streak snapped while the Bucks (39-36) have now won 13 of their last 16 games as they continue to climb the Eastern Conference standings and pose a legit threat to any team they face in the first round of the playoffs. 

Boston, which trailed by as many as 14 points, rallied to tie the game at 93 in the fourth, but back-to-back baskets by Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon put the Bucks ahead 97-93. The Celtics soon found themselves back to within one possession after Jae Crowder split a pair of free throws making it a 99-96 game. 

But the Bucks did as they had done all game, responding to the moment with a big play of their own. This time it was Brogdon finding Greg Monroe under the rim after Al Horford slipped, for an easy dunk that made it a 101-96 game with 1:06 to play. 

A Celtics' time-out led to an Isaiah Thomas lay-up, making it a 101-97 game. Boston’s defense stiffened up, forcing a 24-second violation which led to a 20-second time-out by Boston with 36.9 seconds to play. The Celtics got another quick basket from Thomas who led all scorers with 32 points. 

Boston seemed on the verge of forcing a Milwaukee miss, only for Brogdon to step up with a clutch, tightly contested jumper that made it a 3-point game with 3.9 seconds to play. He finished with 16 points, nine assists and four rebounds.

Following a Celtics time-out, desperate for a 3-pointer to force overtime, Boston’s in-bounds pass was deflected. Marcus Smart was able to corral it before time expired, but his desperation was nowhere close to hitting the rim let alone going in. 

This game had the feel of a down-to-the-wire battle from the outset.

The Celtics were tied at 24-all after the first quarter, and trailed by six points at the half. Boston had good stretches in the third quarter, but once again found themselves trying to cut into Milwaukee’s lead which stood at 80-77 going into the fourth. But like each of the three previous quarters, the Celtics saw the window to close the gap slammed shut in their face as the Bucks opened the fourth with an 8-3 run to lead 88-80.

Boston’s uphill battle was fueled in part by a Milwaukee Bucks defense that didn’t give the Celtics many good looks at the rim. And offensively, Milwaukee’s ball movement was solid all game, generating lots of good looks at the rim. 

Despite all that, the Celtics were down just 90-87 following a 3-point play by Tyler Zeller. Boston had a chance to tie the game, only for Terry Rozier’s 3-pointer to hit the back of the rim and roll out. Bucks coach Jason Kidd knew he had to do something to slow the growing momentum by Boston, leading to him calling a time-out with 5:35 to play with it being a one-possession game. 

Boston continued to fight its way back into the game, and were within two (93-91) after Marcus Smart made the second of two free throws. 

He wasn’t done. 

Smart, who had his second double-double of the season with 11 points and a career high-tying 11 rebounds, scored on a driving lay-up to knot the game at 93-all with 2:46 to play. From there, the Celtics could not make the necessary plays to get the victory. 

Stars, studs and duds at halftime: Isaiah Thomas opens with efficiency

Stars, studs and duds at halftime: Isaiah Thomas opens with efficiency

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics found themselves in an unfamiliar place for most of the first half against Milwaukee. The Celtics were playing from behind as the half ended, and were trailing the Milwaukee Bucks 55-49.

The Bucks opened the game with a 14-4 run, only for Boston to respond with 10 straight to tie the game at 14. Boston would take the lead but couldn’t put much distance between itself and Milwaukee, with their lead in the first quarter peaking at just four points.

After a 24-all tie to end the first, Milwaukee opened with an 8-0 run and played with the lead for the remainder of the second quarter in which their lead grew to as many as 14 points. 

But the Celtics chipped away at the Bucks' lead, getting it down to as little has four points on multiple occasions before the Bucks wound up taking a six-point lead into the half. 

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half of Wednesday’s game against the Bucks. 

STARS

Khris Middleton: Milwaukee’s ball movement created lots of open looks, and nobody seemed to benefit more from this than Middleton. He had 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting with four rebounds and two assists. 

Isaiah Thomas: He didn’t take a lot of shots, but made the ones he did take count. He had 20 points at the half on 5-for-7 shooting from the field. 

STUDS

Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak was solid in the first half with 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting. 

Mirza Teletovic: He gave the Bucks a nice offensive spark to the second quarter, finishing with eight points on 3-for-5 shooting.

Avery Bradley: He managed to get some easy looks on cuts to the basket, finishing with eight points on 4-for-9 shooting and three rebounds. 

DUDS

Celtics composure: Both Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas picked up technical fouls in the second quarter, letting their emotions get the better of them. And on top of that, they turned the ball over 11 times which led to five points for the Bucks but even more important, took away potential scoring opportunities for the Celtics.