Celtics 'crushed' by more physical Hawks

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Celtics 'crushed' by more physical Hawks

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

ATLANTA Too many times to count Friday night, the Boston Celtics would follow the defensive game plan to near perfection.

They forced the Atlanta Hawks to take shots that they didn't necessarily want to take. And most of those shots were contested.

Funny thing happened after most of those shot clanged off the rim, though -- they wound up back in the hands of Hawks players who more often than not, converted those second-chance opportunities into points.

And when the final horn sounded, the Boston Celtics found themselves on the short end of an 88-83 loss.

The skidding Celtics, losers of four of their last six games, are known as a physical basketball team.

But the Hawks became the latest opponent to play the role of aggressor against Boston.

"We got crushed," said coach Doc Rivers, who repeated the "crushed" reference two more times in case anyone missed it. "We got absolutely crushed on the glass tonight. Our guys played with effort. I think they want to play. Atlanta was just better."

The Celtics were minus-14 on the boards against Atlanta, and minus-11 when you just looked at offensive rebounds.

Although Boston held the Hawks to just 36.7 percent shooting, all those multiple shot opportunities they got essentially negated what had been a number of otherwise solid defensive efforts.

"We have to be a better rebounding team," said Paul Pierce. "Especially if you play great defense for 19, 20, 22 seconds and the ball goes up, you gotta be able to get those rebounds. That really bit us in the butt tonight."

And it's a trend that'll keep giving them fits until they fix it.

The idea that the return of Shaquille O'Neal, which may happen as early as Sunday, can certainly help along those lines.

But Rivers isn't banking on O'Neal coming back being what rights all the wrongs of the C's.

"Let's not make . . . we have no saviors," Rivers said. "We have to save ourselves. Clearly another big body would help. Jermaine O'Neal playing three or four more games will help. But at the end of the day, all of us have to get on the glass and I didn't think we did that tonight."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

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Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

BOSTON – Brad Stevens has said on more than one occasion that the Boston Celtics’ record (38-22) is a bit better than their actual play.

While it may come across as exaggerated humility on Stevens’ part, the coach makes a very good point.

Despite Boston having the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, they have struggled mightily this season against the top-four teams in the East outside of themselves.

Boston will have a chance to rewrite at least one chapter in that narrative tonight when they host the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Against the top-four teams in the East (Cleveland, Washington, Toronto and Atlanta), the Celtics are just 3-8 which falls short of how those teams have fared against one another this season.

The Cavs are 7-1 against the East’s top-4 clubs with the lone loss at Atlanta in November. Toronto (5-5) and Atlanta (4-4) have a .500 records against the top-4 while Washington (4-5) is just a game below-.500.

That’s why tonight’s game against Cleveland is so important to Boston.

It’s not just about beating the best team in the East.

For them, it’s about beating a good team, the kind of team that they have to get past in the postseason if they are to make the kind of deep playoff run that so many of the players have their sights set on.

Coming off of a 114-98 home loss to Atlanta, the Celtics know they have to play better – a lot better – to avoid losing a second game in a row, and four of their last five.

“They’re a good team,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “If we’re not locked in, they’ll beat us worse than the Hawks. So we have to come out, execute, play harder, feed off the crowd and do our job. We should be victorious.”

That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re talking about a Cleveland team that’s truly built for the postseason.

That said, the Cavs are about as vulnerable to defeat now as they will be anytime this season.

All-Star forward Kevin Love is out until late March following “minor” surgery on his left knee.

“There’s definitely enough time to where I can get into a good rhythm,” Love told reporters earlier this week.

In addition to Love, the Cavs are also without J.R. Smith who underwent right thumb surgery in December that’s expected to keep him out until at least the middle of March.

Said Love, “I imagine between J.R. and myself, we’ll get out there and get our wind and be ready to go for (the playoffs) in April.”

Even without Love and Smith, Cleveland has plenty of firepower to remain the team to beat in the East.

It all starts with LeBron James who is averaging 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and a career-high 8.9 assists per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.

And then there’s Kyrie Irving who continues to play at a level which puts him among the best guards in the NBA. He’s averaging a career-high 24.6 points while dishing out 6.0 assists to go with 3.3 rebounds.

Tristan Thompson. Iman Shumpert. New guys Derrick Williams and Deron Williams.

Go down the line and it’s clear that the Cavs have elite talent and depth to which beating them, regardless of who may be missing in action, will not be easy.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have to simply do what they do best … only better.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We’ve got to make shots.”