Hawks struggle vs. undermanned C's

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Hawks struggle vs. undermanned C's

ATLANTA The Atlanta Hawks moved one step closer to clinching home court in the first round of the playoffs with Friday's 97-92 win over the Boston Celtics.

But Hawks coach Larry Drew was in no mood to celebrate the win, not when it came down to the final minute despite Boston playing without five of its top seven players who were either out because of an injury or simply had the night off.

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

With a lineup on the floor that included E'Twaun Moore, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Jajuan Johnson and Ryan Hollins, the Celtics had the ball with a chance to take the lead with the Hawks clinging to a 79-78 lead.

A jumper by Johnson was off the mark. Boston got the offensive rebound, but Moore missed a 3-pointer that seconds later resulted in a 3-pointer by Atlanta's Willie Green.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers heard a lot of praise bestowed upon his players who put up the kind of fight few not on the Celtics' payroll, anticipated.

"Nobody gave us a chance in hell tonight," said Celtics guardforward Marquis Daniels who hd a season-high 12 points. "We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We were a couple shots away from it."

For Rivers, he was proud of how his team fought through some less-than-stellar circumstances. But regardless of who plays, the goal remains the same.

Because of that, the C's are able to keep Friday's loss in perspective.

"We didn't win the game," Rivers said. 'And that was our goal."

The same goes for the Hawks, who were able to come away with the victory.

But there's no question that it didn't sit well with them, especially knowing that there's a very good chance these two will see each other in the first round of the playoffs.

And the C's will have most, if not all, of the guys missing on Friday, back in the lineup.

Joe Johnson led all scorers with 30 points, and he acknowledges that the Hawks don't feel all that great about Friday's victory.

"For us," Johnson said. "It definitely sits a little uneasy. I don't feel like we brought our "A" game, particularly given they had a few guys out."

More than anything, it becomes a game in which a team's mental toughness and ability to focus on the job at hand - regardless of the opponent - is put to the test.

And the Hawks, truth be told, barely passed.

"As I told our players," Drew said, "I understand the psychological and mental side of a game like that where a team doesn't have its top six or seven players. I've been around this league long enough to see that situation. Either you handle it or you don't, and we didn't handle that side of it."

Lowe: Wouldn't be shocked if C's move Bradley

Lowe: Wouldn't be shocked if C's move Bradley

Zach Lowe’s most recent podcast is worth a listen, as it features plenty of talk about what the Celtics may or may not due ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. 

Lowe brought up the possibility of the Celtics top-1 or top-2-protecting Brooklyn’s first-round pick and including it in a deal for Butler. He surmises that the inclusion of the Brooklyn pick -- protected or not -- might not come until the final minutes. 

“Look, if Butler gets traded or if Paul George gets traded, that’s when it’s going to happen,” Marc Stein responded. “It’s going to happen in the last five to 10 minutes, so Boston has to make a decision, and let's see if they’re doing the math that they’ve had these assets for a while and it is time to do something bold and the time is now. Really, I think Boston will do it. The question is what will Chicago or Indiana do? And those are two hard reads.” 

Stein spoke to the Celtics’ lack of activity at certain points, but he said that if the C’s do fail to come away with a star player Thursday, it won’t be for lack of aggressiveness. 

MORE TRADE TALK

“I think the Celtics are taking criticism for waiting, and they’ve had all these assets they haven’t moved yet, but I think the record shows that Danny Ainge in general, in total, is very aggressive, not afraid to roll the dice, not afraid to make the aggressive move,” Stein said. “So I have less doubt about Boston saying, ‘Let’s just do it.’ I have far more questions about what Chicago and/or Indiana would do.” 

Lowe said that he imagines the Bulls would “think about” trading the C's Butler if Boston threw in the Nets’ pick unprotected, but added that Chicago would demand to also take two players out of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. 

“I think that will be the offer and they’ll get there and Chicago will either have a moment where they say, ‘We walk away or we’ll do it.’ And Boston’s not going to throw in the other Nets pick,” Lowe said. “That’s just not going to happen.”

Rating the aforementioned foursome in terms of trade value, Lowe said that Crowder is the best piece because of his “ridiculously good” contract, followed by Brown, Smart and Bradley. 

Lowe added that he considers Bradley one of the “sneaky interesting pieces at this trade deadline” because his contract is up after next season, which is the same time that Isaiah Thomas’ contract expires. Lowe says that given the uncertainty of his future in Boston, he wouldn’t be overly surprised if Bradley is moved at the deadline. 

Report: Ainge wouldn't trade Nets pick for Butler, but would for George

Report: Ainge wouldn't trade Nets pick for Butler, but would for George

Will the Celtics part with the right to Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round pick in order to get a star before Thursday’s trade deadline? 

MORE TRADE TALK

Citing a pair of NBA executives, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News wrote this week that Danny Ainge’s willingness to trade the pick should be in doubt.

Sola named Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Paul George as potential targets, adding that the C’s might include the latter.   

Wrote Isola: 

Two executives doubt that Ainge, who historically plays it close to the vest, would give up the Nets pick in a deal for Butler. However, Ainge might consider it in a trade for George, the Pacers-free agent-to-be who has expressed doubts over re-signing with the Pacers.

‘With Danny, no one ever knows what he might do,' said the executive. ‘He's one of the best. If he thinks he can make a run at the Cavs this season, considering all the injuries Cleveland has had, I can see him making a move.

‘Everyone is talking about Butler to Boston but Danny and Larry Bird go way back. Paul George could be the sleeper.’

This season, the 26-year-old George is averaging 22.3 points 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game.