Celtics-Hawks review: What we saw

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Celtics-Hawks review: What we saw

BOSTON For most of Boston's 90-84 overtime win in Game 3 against Atlanta, the Celtics did a good job of managing the clock.

But as their lead peaked at 11 points with just under seven minutes to play, the C's offense slowed down considerably as they appeared to be more focused on killing time off the clock than killing any hopes of an Atlanta comeback.

The Hawks managed to close out the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run that ultimately forced overtime.

"We got into the habit of milking the clock," Rivers said. "And you just can't do that. You can do that when the other team has two bigs. But when the other team has five guards on the floor, you absolutely can't do that. And we did that."

Consider it another lesson learned for the Celtics, who did a much better job of managing the clock in overtime.

"We got what we wanted (in overtime)," Rivers said.

The offense ran more smoothly, the defense was solid as ever and most important, the Celtics came away with a win that gives them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 4 on Sunday.

Boston's ability to better manage the game in the fourth quarter was yet another example of how the C's can adjust on the fly, which proved to be a key factor in Friday's win. Here are some other keys identified earlier, and how they actually played out as the Celtics continue their postseason mastery of the Hawks as the C's improved their record in the playoffs at home against the Hawks, to 23-2 since 1960.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: All eyes will be on Rajon Rondo, with many wondering how he will handle himself after being suspended in Game 2. This will be the fourth time Rondo has returned after missing time, whether it was injury-related or because of a suspension. In those three previous games, Rondo has returned to the floor doing essentially what he does most of the time - pass the ball. In those three games, he's averaging 11 assists which is just 0.7 assists fewer than his NBA-leading 11.7 assists per game average this season. "I'm a pass-first point guard," Rondo said. "It's not like I try to go out there and dominate the ball as far as shots. I try to keep my teammates happy, and get a win."
WHAT WE SAW: It seemed as the game went on, Rajon Rondo's play steadily improved. He finished with his seventh playoff triple-double, tallying 17 points, 12 assists and 14 rebounds. "He is certainly proven to be one of the better point guards in this league," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. Certainly he's a handful."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson: Pierce is coming off a monster 36-point, 14-rebound night in Game 2, the kind of performance that few expect the Captain to replicate. Of greater concern for Boston has to be the 44 minutes Pierce played, and whether a couple days off will be enough rest for him to bounce back and pick up where he left off. As for Johnson, look for him to be more assertive offensively regardless of whether Josh Smith (left knee) plays. A six-time all-star, Johnson has averaged 16.5 points and five assists in the first two games, while shooting just 31.3 percent from the field and 17.6 percent on 3s.
WHAT WE SAW: Although Johnson had more points (29 to 21 for Pierce), you have to give the nod to Pierce on this one. Yes, he was just 3-for-12 shooting which is a horrible shooting night for any paler. But Pierce also went to the free throw line 14 times and made all of his attempts. Meanwhile, Johnson's game-high 29 points came on 11-for-28 shooting which speaks to him having a not-so-efficient night as a scorer.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Teague has really emerged as a postseason terror for opponents. After two games, Teague has established himself as the best guard on the floor. His quickness off the dribble seems to have caught the Celtics off-guard in the first two games. However, the Celtics - Avery Bradley mainly - have figured out how to limit him down the stretch in both games. Figuring out how to keep Teague under control at the start of games, would go far in Boston pulling out a Game 3 win.
WHAT WE SAW: Joe Johnson may be their lone all-star that's healthy, but the Hawks made a major gaffe in trying to run their offense down the stretch through Johnson instead of letting Teague be the primary attacker. The Celtics have had problems defending him in all three games. And with Avery Bradley out for the entire fourth quarter, the Hawks would have been wise to make Teague - not Johnson - the focal point of their offense. He finished with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field along with six assists, four rebounds, a steal and two blocked shots.

STAT TO TRACK: Bench play is always important, especially in this series. The Hawks won Game 1 in part because they outscored the Celtics' second unit, 17-2. In Boston's Game 2 win, the C's second unit had 14 points which equaled the output of the Hawks' reserves. Being able to hold their own offensively with Atlanta's backups will again be key in tonight's Game 3 matchup.
WHAT WE SAW: Bench play was indeed a factor, especially for the Celtics. The return of Ray Allen to the second unit did in fact provide a much-needed offensive lift for the Celtics. He had 13 of the Celtics' 19 bench points. As for the Hawks, Tracy McGrady had a big game off the bench with 12 points, 10 of which came before he suffered an ankle sprain that sidelined him temporarily.

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.