BOSTON The Boston Celtics are never going to be a dominant rebounding team this season. But they continue to make progress, as was the case in their 88-86 overtime win against Atlanta. Boston wound up with a season-high 56 rebounds, which is impressive. The fact that they only allowed the Hawks 39 -- a 17 rebound difference -- was remarkable.
"Well, you're not going to see it a whole bunch, but we'll take it," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "We rebounded very well."
Brandon Bass was among the C's to have a big night on the boards, finishing with 10 rebounds to go along with 21 points.
"We needed a night like that to build on," he said. "We've been struggling on the boards; that's an area we wanted to improve on. I just hope we can keep it going."
Boston's board work was a major reason for the C's winning their fourth straight game. Here we'll review other keys to the C's win identified prior to tip-off, and how those factors played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Regardless of whether the Celtics played last night, the Hawks are going to come out looking to run. It makes sense when you consider they are the younger team, and getting out in transition has been one of their best traits all season. Atlanta averages 15.8 fast-break points this season (No. 8 in the NBA), a figure that will be challenged by a Celtics defense that's giving up just 12 fast-break points per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.
WHAT WE SAW: Atlanta had some success early on getting out and running, but the C's kept them in check for most of the game. The Hawks finished the night with 12 fast-break points compared to 10 for the Celtics.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. Joe Johnson: Once again Bradley will find himself matched up with a taller player at the shooting guard position. But what makes Johnson such a tough cover is his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, or pull up for jumpers. Give Bradley credit. He has managed to make some of the NBA's best (Dwyane Wade, for example) have off nights. He'll look to continue that trend against Johnson, one of the most efficient shooting guards in the NBA.
WHAT WE SAW: Bradley was one of several defenders on Johnson, who had just 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting. The C's defense was especially up for the challenge near the end of regulation when the Hawks made a point of trying to get Johnson to take the last shot. However, he was unable to because of the Celtics' aggressive double-team that forced him to give the ball up.
"That's why I really didn't want to run a pick-and-roll because I knew (Rajon) Rondo was going to jump out there and try and trap me to get the ball."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Atlanta's Josh Smith is a phenomenal talent except when he plays against Boston. In his lone game against the Celtics this season, he had 10 points on 5-for-20 shooting. He has faced the C's 24 times in his career, averaging 12.3 points per game. Of the teams he has played against 24 or more times, Smith's scoring, rebounding (6.7) and field goal percentage (.403), are worst against Boston than any other team.
WHAT WE SAW: Smith had one of his better games against Boston, scoring 20 points to go with 11 rebounds and five assists. But when the game mattered most, Smith failed to deliver. He failed to make a basket in the fourth quarter or overtime, which wound up being just a part of all that went wrong for the Hawks down the stretch.
STAT TO TRACK: Although both Boston and Atlanta have not been among the NBA's top scoring teams this season, both have ratcheted up their bucket-making skills of late. In the last three games by the C's, they are averaging 101.3 points per game which ranks 10th in the NBA during that span. For the season, Boston ranks No. 26. As for the Hawks, they have the 18th-best scoring team this season, but have averaged 112.3 points in the last three games which only trails Phoenix (112.7) during that same span.
WHAT WE SAW: After a fast start offensively by both teams, it became very much a defensive battle for the last three quarters. And in those type of games, the Celtics more often than not, come out ahead. Look no further than overtime, which featured a total of six points combined.