Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 5 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 5 preview

BOSTON So much of coaching has little to do with X's and O's. More often than most fans understand, coaches rely on instincts and hunches.

Sometimes they're on the money. Other times, not so much.

Friday's Game 4 matchup against Philadelphia falls under the latter for Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers and his staff, which rode the team's successful small-ball lineup down the stretch one game too many.

That group's struggles were among the factors contributing to Boston's Game 4 loss which now has this series tied at 2-2.

And as the Celtics gear up for tonight's Game 4 battle, deciding when to go with a small-ball unit will again be a gut check of sorts for Rivers.

The player most affected by Boston's small lineup for the C's is Brandon Bass, who is usually on the Celtics bench when Rivers decides to play a smaller quintet that includes some combination of three guards, Paul Pierce at power forward and Kevin Garnett at center.

Bass has struggled shooting the ball most of this series, but had his best scoring night of the series in Game 4.

He finished with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, which is even more impressive when you consider he spent all but three seconds of the fourth quarter on the bench.

"Honestly, if we made one mistake we should have went back to Bass," Rivers said. "The first three games, our smaller lineup was better than our big lineup. Statistically in Game Four, the big lineup was better. The big lineup is what got us the lead. The big lineup is what, in the beginning of the third, got off to a good start. Both times when we went small, it hurt us. So that's something as a staff we have to recognize."

Knowing that both his usual lineup and his small-ball group have had stretches of strong play in this series doesn't make the decision of which to play any easier to make, either.

"It's a tough call," Rivers said. "We're going to have to make a call every game, it looks like. There's no right or wrong to it, but it's going to have to be a gut feeling. And I hope when we make it, it's going to be the right one."

Besides figuring out when to go big or small, here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Celtics try to regain control of this series in a pivotal Game 5 matchup.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- The Sixers have wisely challenged Avery Bradley to become more a scorer, well aware that his shoulder injury has significantly impacted his ability to score. Bradley, whose status for Game 5 is up in the air, will have to continue being a difference-maker with his defense.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Celtics bench vs. Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen: Boston's second unit has had little to no impact in this series, while the Sixers bench - namely Young and Allen - have been arguably the two biggest reasons this series is tied at two games apiece. Young's ability to score and Allen's defense on Kevin Garnett have paid huge dividends for the Sixers thus far. Boston's backups have to contribute more than they have in order to lessen the impact of Philadelphia's dynamic backup duo.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- It has to be Kevin Garnett. The most dominant figure in this series through the first three games, the Sixers limited Garnett to just nine points while he connected on just 25 percent (3-for-12 shooting) of his shots in Game 4 - the worst shooting percentage Garnett has had as a member of the Celtics in a playoff game. You can expect the C'sa to use multiple sets offensively to try and get Garnett the ball deeper in the lane where he has been next to unstoppable in this series.

STAT TO TRACK -- Rebounding is always going to be a challenge for the Celtics, but a bigger concern for them has to be limiting their turnovers. In their two playoff wins over Philadelphia, Boston has averaged 10 turnovers that led to 10.5 points for the Sixers. In the two losses, the turnover numbers rise to 18 per game and led to 12.5 points for Philadelphia.

Celtics-Hawks preview: Thomas 'not worried about' Schroeder

Celtics-Hawks preview: Thomas 'not worried about' Schroeder

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. –  Isaiah Thomas has respect for the Atlanta Hawks team.

So when I asked him about the Hawks, Thomas spoke glowingly about Paul Millsap as being a “special player” and Dwight Howard having a huge impact on shot attempts whether he’s blocking them or not.

But he knows all eyes will be on him and Hawks point guard Dennis Schroeder who had some not-so-nice things to say about Thomas following Boston’s 103-101 win at Atlanta on Jan. 13.

The two waged a feisty, highly combative game most of the Jan. 13 game with Thomas getting the better of Schroeder in just about every statistical category such as scoring (28 points for Thomas compared to 4 for Schroeder), assists (nine to three), and minutes played (36:16 to 22:36).

And then there was the one statistic that mattered most … the win.

But after the game, Schroeder told reporters that Thomas had spoken badly about his mother.

“I’m playing basketball,” Schroder told reporters after the game in January. “If he think that he got to curse at my mom or say some dumb stuff about my family, that has nothing to do with basketball. That’s his choice. I’ve got too much class for that. Next one, we are going to get it.”

The news got back to Thomas who emphatically denied he said anything along those lines.

“I don’t talk about nobody’s mom,” Thomas said when he became aware of Schroeder’s comments. “I don’t cuss at anybody’s mom and I don’t talk about people’s family. So whatever he said, that’s a 100 percent lie and he knows that.”

When I asked Thomas about Schroeder following Boston’s 104-98 win at Detroit Sunday night, he had little to say about the Hawks point guard.

“Man I’m past that. I’m not worried about that guy,” Thomas said. “Once he did that the last game, where he tried to damage my character, (saying I was) talking about his parents … I’m past that. Hopefully we can beat the Atlanta Hawks. I’m not even worried about him.”

Schroeder may not be on Thomas’ radar as a major concern, but the players he spoke of earlier – Millsap and Howard – are two players who can have a significant impact on whether the Celtics can continue to build off of the good things they did against the Pistons.

And Atlanta (32-26) will come in extremely thirsty for success having lost their last three games – all by 15 or more points - and four of the last five.

Despite the Hawks recent struggles, the Celtics understand that despite their success this season they are in no position to take any team lightly.

“They’re a good team. They play the game the right way,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “They have some really good players, some really good shooters, really good bigs down low. We have to come out and play harder than them, match their intensity, execute, move the ball, share the ball and have fun.”

Shaughnessy: Why I'm not a fan of Celtics not trading at deadline

Shaughnessy: Why I'm not a fan of Celtics not trading at deadline

Dan Shaughnessy joins Sports Sunday and talks with Felger about why he hated the Boston Celtics not making any moves at the deadline.