Celtics-Hawks Game 5 review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Hawks Game 5 review: What we saw . . .

ATLANTA The Boston Celtics' first crack at sending the Atlanta Hawks home for the summer didn't succeed as the Hawks held on for an 87-86 win.

When you look at the C's historically, Tuesday's outcome wasn't a total shock.

Under Doc Rivers, the Celtics are now 9-13 in close-out games.

On the road, they're 2-10 in such games.

As much as Tuesday's loss falls in line with what the C's have done in the past, there's no masking the fact that this was a game that was there for the Celtics to take.

Based on how the previous three games had gone, the Hawks' confidence was fading fast.

But Boston allowed Atlanta to have life in the second quarter, allowed them to pull ahead before a Rajon Rondo-led rally made it a tight game again. And down the stretch, Boston simply squandered one opportunity after another to get the win.

"It's a make or miss league," said Paul Pierce, who made seven shots and missed 10. "We had our opportunities down the stretch. They played with a lot of energy and a lot of pride. They had their backs to the wall and won a close one."

Boston's inability to make the clutch baskets down the stretch ultimately sealed their fate and was indeed one of the main factors in the game's outcome. Here are some other keys discussed prior to the game, and how they ultimately played out.

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.

WHAT WE SAW: Rondo's game was symbolic of how the Celtics played as a team - brilliant for some stretches, bad for others. He was the main reason why the Celtics were able to erase a double-digit deficit in the third quarter and give the C's a fighting chance to steal the victory. He had 13 points and 12 assists, but shot just 6-for-17 from the field.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson: This has been a surprisingly lopsided matchup thus far - but not how you expected it to 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, and 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.

WHAT WE SAW: This matchup was a literal standstill, with Pierce scoring 16 points on 7-for-17 shooting and Johnson tallying 15 points on 6-for-17 shooting. More telling was the impact each made while they were on the floor. With Pierce in the game, the C's were minus-13. With Johnson? The Hawks were plus-2.

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.

WHAT WE SAW: Without question, Al Horford was the biggest impact player in this game. His 19 points and 11 rebounds only tell part of the story of how he single-handedly kept the Hawks' season alive. Clinging to an 87-86 lead, his defense in the game's closing seconds forced Rajon Rondo to lose the ball out of bounds and with that, sealed a must-win game for Atlanta to keep their season alive. "I tried to make a play but got caught on the baseline," Rondo said. "Give Al credit. I just didn't come up with the shot."

STAT TO TRACK: You had to bank on Kevin Garnett dominating the series with whoever 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.

WHAT WE SAW: The change with Horford at center paid huge dividends for the Hawks in ways besides him just scoring. Atlanta was plus-8 on the boards, which was one of their best rebounding efforts against the Celtics in this series. He also had three blocked shots, which equalled the output of the entire Celtics team. "He was a superman for us down the stretch," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. Said Horford: "You're fighting for your life out there. I wanted to bring energy to the team tonight. We needed to win this game."

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
 

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.