Celtics-Hawks review: What we saw

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Celtics-Hawks review: What we saw

ATLANTA The Boston Celtics are not the kind of team that gets too giddy about what some might construe as a quality loss.

But Friday's 97-92 loss at Atlanta just may qualify as the lone exception.

Boston had no business keeping the game close, let alone being in position to win it in the final minutes.

And there they were, playing without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett who were given the night off.

No Mickael Pietrus (knee), Ray Allen (ankle) or Rajon Rondo (back) either, with all back in Boston nursing their respective injuries.

"Nobody gave us a chance in hell tonight," said Celtics guardforward Marquis Daniels. "We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We were a couple shots away from it."

And that shot at winning was fueled by what on many stretches resembled the Celtics' "C" team of players at the very end of the bench that delivered in a big, bad way for the Celtics all game against an Atlanta team that played their usual rotation players close to their usual minutes.

"Even though we didn't win, I felt like we took steps forward as a team," said Boston's Avery Bradley who led all C's with a career-high 28 points. "It was an opportunity for us to improve, and a lot of our guys did that."

Boston's cut-and-paste second unit kept the game close with a number of hustle plays such as steals, deflections and contesting shots. But surprisingly, they held their offensively as well, tallying 29 points compared to 30 for Atlanta's second unit.

Even though the Hawks got the win, it was clear that Atlanta head coach Larry Drew didn't feel overly enthused with how the game played out.

"As far as I'm concerned, whether Boston won or not, they accomplished what they wanted," Drew said. "To have his reserves come out and compete at a high level, and to take us down to the wire the way they did."

Bench play certainly gave the Celtics a shot at pulling off the major upset. Here are some other keys outlined prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR If the Celtics keep as many guys out as expected tonight, Avery Bradley may be the team's best scoring option among the starters. It'll be interesting to see what kind of impact he can make when more attention is paid to him offensively, and he doesn't have the benefit of Rajon Rondo at the point or Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the floor creating space for him to work.

WHAT WE SAW: Avery Bradley continues to make a last-minute dash for the league's Most Improved award, showing that he can indeed deliver offensively without the usual set of Hall of Famers or all-stars around him. He scored a career-high 28 points, his third game with 20 or more points in Boston's last four. "Avery played a terrific game in a lot of areas that really helped us tonight," said C's coach Doc Rivers.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Sasha Pavlovic vs. Joe Johnson: This matchup will be decided in the first quarter most likely. If Pavlovic can come out and hit a couple shots early, his defense will actually get better Johnson. It's weird, I know. No one is under any disillusions that Pavlovic is going to shut Johnson down. But if he can keep him from being an efficient scorer, the C's will have a much better chance at victory.

WHAT WE SAW: Joe Johnson, arguably the best crab-dribbler in the NBA, was much, much, much too much for Pavlovic to handle. Pavlovic didn't take a single shot until the second quarter. By that point, Johnson was well on his way to a game-high 30 points - 23 of which came in the first half. Pavlovic finished with four points on 2-for-3 shooting.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Keyon Dooling is expected to get the start tonight, which should take some of the ball-handling pressure off Bradley. Dooling needs to be more than just a facilitator. He needs to provide the Celtics with a bit of scoring, something he has not done much of this season. He's averaging a career-low 3.5 points per game this season and has not reached double figures scoring since scoring 10 points at New Orleans on Dec. 28.

WHAT WE SAW: Dooling was very aggressive offensively in the first half, scoring 10 of his season-high 17 points. Just as impressive was how efficient he was, connecting on seven of his 10 shots from the field along with racking up three assists without a single turnover.

STAT TO TRACK: Both Boston and Atlanta rank among the bottom-10 in the NBA in rebounds per game, so winning the battle on the boards will be huge. The C's rank dead-last with 38.8 per game while the Hawks are No. 23 with 41.3 per game. In the two previous games, both Celtics wins, the C's have averaged winning the boards by six per game.

WHAT WE SAW: The Hawks played without center Zaza Pachulia, but it didn't matter on this night. Atlanta was plus-8 on the boards against Boston which more than anything else, prevented the C's from getting out and running as much as they would have liked. Despite coming up short on the boards, Boston still managed to tally more second-chance points (14) than the Hawks (12) in addition to outscoring Atlanta in the paint, 44-36.

Blakely: Ainge's patience may hand Celtics a double payoff

Blakely: Ainge's patience may hand Celtics a double payoff

BOSTON -- When it comes to public opinion, Danny Ainge has never been one to be consumed by it or let it trickle into a decision he was thinking about for the roster.
 
So you can understand why the "What are they doing?" cries from Celtics Nation when he traded away the No. 1 overall pick earlier this month never resonated with him.

MORE ON GEORGE/HAYWARD


And you can understand why Ainge, when the Chicago Bulls became serious about moving Jimmy Butler on draft night, never put forth a competitive offer even though he had more than enough trade chips to do so.
 
He has patiently waited for his vault full of assets to increase, like blue-chip stocks, to a point where they had real value to a team open to moving a superstar talent to Boston.
 
That time appears to be now, with the Celtics well-positioned to add not one but two All-Stars in Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Indiana’s Paul George.
 
The Celts are pursuing both simultaneously, knowing they have to secure Hayward first in order to arrange to have enough salary-cap space to make a trade with the Pacers for George.
 
Not surprisingly, the first move in this 1-2 step is the hardest.
 
Boston will have to convince Hayward, who played for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler and was named to his first All-Star team in February, to bypass an extra year and about $40 million --- which he could get by staying in Utah -- to sign here. The advantage the C's have, in addition to the lure of playing for his ex-college coach, is that the path towards the NBA Finals is a lot more realistic with them than with the Jazz, who are on the rise but not quite close enough to where they are a legitimate threat to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are coming off a season in which they finished with the best record in the East and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. They also return the core from last year's team, led by two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
 
It’s likely that at least one member of the team’s core will be included in a trade for George, a pending free agent whose representatives informed the Pacers he was not going to sign a long-term contract with Indiana and that his preferred destination for 2018-19 (and beyond) was his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.
 
The Lakers don't have the kind of assets the Pacers are hoping to secure for their four-time All-Star. The Celtics, however, are in position to potentially overpay for George and not have it devastate their growth in both the short and long term. They also feel that once they get him here, they can convince him to stay . . . and, indeed, some people in George's camp feel Boston is a better landing spot than Los Angeles.
 
However, the key in all this is Hayward, who will also get a strong pitch from the Miami Heat.
 
Complicating this even further for the Celtics has been the salary cap coming in at just $99 million as opposed to what most anticipated would be a couple million dollars more.
 
“It is hard,” Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, told CSN’s Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely recently regarding the salary cap for this season. “With the cap going down, it’s a little bit of a jolt. It doesn’t seem like a lot and every team has to deal with this. But we were planning pretty close to the dollar, to have a good team this year but to max cap space flexibility going into the offseason.”

In order for the Celtics to pull this off, it likely means they will have to part ways with at least one of their core players to ensure there’s enough cap space.
 
But considering what they could look like roster-wise on opening night, having to trade a player because of the decreased salary cap is the kind of the collateral damage that the C's can live with.

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready to check out GLOW on Netflix.

*This video of a Vancouver Canucks draft pick tearing up while watching the video of his brother celebrating him getting picked is all that is right with the NHL Draft.  

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Adrian Dater has Avs first-round pick Cale Makar talking about his hockey background, and why it doesn’t matter.

*The Calgary Flames are excited about their prospects and the pieces they were able to acquire last weekend.

*The Washington Capitals have re-signed Brett Connolly for a couple of years at short money and he appears to have found a home in DC.

*The Chicago Blackhawks are still in talks with Marian Hossa about how to resolve his contract and the allergic skin condition that might have prematurely ended his hockey career.

*Will the Tampa Bay sports go through a dry spell when it comes to Hall of Fame athletes now that former Lighting forward Dave Andreychuk has been called to the Hockey Hall?

*It looks like young Pierre Luc Dubois will be put in a position to contribute with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.

*Alex Prewitt has a preview of the NHL free agency period and the stress levels that many players go through in it.

*For something completely different: This video of Drake and Will Ferrell hoop handshakes was pretty solid, and funny.