ATLANTA Part of the Atlanta Hawks' game plan was to make sure Avery Bradley didn't have a big game.
While his 14 points and three assists may not seem that big, the second-year guard was clutch down the stretch doing what he does best - defend.
And that defense, especially against a hot-shooting Jeff Teague, was among the many things the C's did right down the stretch to escape Atlanta with an 87-80 Game 2 win to even up their best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
Having to play the point guard position with Rajon Rondo (suspension) out to start the game and at times slide over to the shooting guard spot, Bradley showed the kind of poise and backcourt versatility the Celtics desperately needed.
"Avery did a phenomenal job," said Boston's Keyon Dooling. "To be able to play two positions and run the show he played a real nice floor game. He understood that we wanted to search and seek for Paul, so he wasn't as aggressive with the ball like he usually is."
But when the Celtics needed him to deliver offensively, he made the Hawks pay. Trailing 66-64 in the fourth, Bradley drained a 16-foot jumper to tie the game. It was the first time the Celtics were not trailing since about midway through the second quarter.
Still, Bradley's bread-and-butter is still his defense, which was put to the test all game by Atlanta's Jeff Teague.
For most of the game, Teague seemed to get the better of Bradley.
But in the fourth quarter, Bradley took his defensive game to another level, one that Teague simply had no answer for.
While Teague finished with 18 points, he did it on 6-for-18 shooting.
And in the fourth?
Teague had two points, but missed all four of his shots from the field.
"Me as an individual, I knew I had to stop Teague a little bit more," Bradley said. "He got going, and I wanted to take that challenge and show my teammates I could pick up my defensive intensity and that's what I did."
Bradley's play was indeed one of the keys to Boston's victory. Here are some of the keys identified prior to the game, and how they actually played out over the course of the 48-minute battle which ended with an 87-80 Celtics victory.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Atlanta will try to come out and knock down shots early in the shot clock, which was a major factor in them jumping out to a 20-6 lead in Game 1. In that opening run, the Hawks made eight field goals. Of those eight field goals, five came with 10 or more seconds on the shot clock. Boston's plan on countering that is pretty simple. "We have to defend, right from the start," C's Mickael Pietrus told CSNNE.com. "We have to come out, be more aggressive, be better defensively. We do that, we'll be OK."
WHAT WE SAW: Boston's Paul Pierce carried the scoring load early while his teammates held things down defensively. Boston ended the first quarter tied at 24 against Atlanta, as the Hawks shot just 38.5 percent (10-for-26) from the field. As it turned out, that would be the most points Atlanta would score in any quarter on Tuesday. "We played great team defense tonight," said Boston's Avery Bradley.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs. Jason Collins: This was one of those matchups in Game 1 where the numbers were deceiving. Garnett had 20 points and 12 rebounds while Collins had just six points and five rebounds. But let's be clear: In terms of what each player wanted to do and what their teams needed from them, Collins was the winner. He made Garnett take tough, contested shots which in turn led to Garnett shooting 8-for-19 from the field. The C's have often said that Garnett doesn't need to score a bunch in order to play well. This is true. He has to provide more of a presence at both ends of the floor, especially if Josh Smith (22 points, 18 rebounds) gets off to another fast start as was the case on Sunday.
WHAT WE SAW: Garnett didn't shoot the ball as well as he did in Game 1, but his impact on Tuesday was so much greater. Garnett had 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting, but four of his six, fourth-quarter points came during a critical 43-second span in which a Garnett basket and a pair of free throws tied the game up and positioned the Celtics for their fourth quarter run to take control of the game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The C's are hoping for a little post-birthday breakout game for Brandon Bass, who turned 27 years old on Monday. Although his numbers this season against the Hawks - 13 points, 8.3 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent from the field - are better than his season averages, the 6-8 forward has not played well in his last two games against the Hawks. In a loss to Atlanta last month, he had 10 points but shot 4-for-15 from the field. And in Game 1, he was 3-for-7 with eight points. Bass said the Hawks have been defending him differently by switching more pick-and-rolls to prevent him from getting free for his mid-range jumper. While Bass would love to impact the game with his shot-making, he understands at this point impacting the game - period - is what the C's really need from him more than anything else.
"I just have to find a way to get more involved in the game earlier," Bass told CSNNE.com. "Blocking shots or something, rebounding, get everybody else involved if they're going to try and take me out of scoring. Now it's time for me to make my adjustment."
Rivers believes that it's Bass - not the Hawks - that have limited his effectiveness of late. "His mind is alive, which is never good," Rivers told CSNNE.com, referring to Bass thinking too much on the floor. "He's just gotta play. We showed him (video) he's open. He's pump-faking; just shoot it."
Despite Bass having played in 29 playoff games, Sunday's game was his first with the C's and that, Rivers believes, makes his struggles not all that different than what some of the Celtics other playoff newbies are going through now. "He hadn't been in a big game with us, so he's just like Avery (Bradley) and Greg (Stiemsma)," Rivers said. "We expected it."
WHAT WE SAW: Brandon Bass continued to have his problems getting into a flow offensively for Boston. He finished with eight points on 3-for-7 shooting, along with six rebounds. Including the regular season, Bass has failed to score in double figures in four straight games - the longest stretch of single-figure scoring he has had in this, his first season as a Celtic.
STAT TO TRACK: With Rajon Rondo out, you can expect Paul Pierce to spend more time as the Celtics' facilitator. As much as Boston benefits from Pierce's scoring, they have been very successful when the Truth is wheeling' and dealin' up assists at a fairly high rate. Pierce averaged 4.5 assists per game this season which ranked second to Rondo's NBA-high 11.7 assists per game. The Captain had 18 games in which he had six or more assists, with the Celtics emerging with an impressive 14-4 record in those games. "I tell y'all many times, I play within the flow of the game, try to give it what it needs regardless of who is out there, " Pierce said.
WHAT WE SAW: Pierce did some facilitating offensively, but it was pretty clear that he was in more of a scorer's mode on Tuesday. He finished with 36 points and 14 rebounds, in addition to tallying four assists. Boston's assists leader on Tuesday was their center, Kevin Garnett, who led the C's with five assists.