Boston Celtics: 2010Game14

Five from afar: C's 99, Hawks 76

November, 22, 2010
11/22/10
11:13
PM ET
AP Photo/David GoldmanShaquille O'Neal and the Celtics left Atlanta tied in knots.
Five observations from afar after the Boston Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 99-76 Monday at Philips Arena.

DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
OK, it’s the most overused cliché in basketball. But it is the Celtics’ raison d’etre and how they view themselves first and foremost -- as a defensive team. And after laying a Brontosaurus egg on defense against the Raptors on Sundday, the real Celtics (or so they hope) showed up in Atlanta.

They dominated the Hawks from start to finish, and that is no small feat given that Atlanta entered the game as the No. 2 field goal shooting team in the NBA, averaging 49.3 percent from the field. The Celtics held the Hawks to 34.6 percent. It was, by far, the worst shooting night of the season for Atlanta; its previous low had been 42 percent. The Celtics also held Atlanta to a season-low 76 points. The previous low had been 89.

“We played defense for 48 minutes,’’ Kevin Garnett said. This was a defensive tour de force, featuring Garnett completely obliterating Josh Smith (no field goals in 22 minutes) and Delonte West contributing a SportsCenter-special block on Zaza Pachulia, coming from behind to swipe the ball away from the big Atlanta center. You have to think Pachulia, who also got blocked by Marquis Daniels, was getting more than a few colorful tweets from his buddies back in Georgia. That’s Georgia, as in the country, not the state.

[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
AP Photo/David GoldmanKevin Garnett was on a mission against Josh Smith, holding him without a field goal while contributing 17 points and 11 rebounds to the Celtics' cause.
STARTERS IN CONTROL: The Celtics’ starting 5 was, in a word, overwhelming. Shaquille O’Neal had the first double-double of his Boston career, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds in only 21 minutes. Garnett, admitting he was upset over his play against the Raptors, had 17 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes. And Nate Robinson, starting for the injured Rajon Rondo for the second straight game, had 16 points and 10 assists in a shade more than 30 minutes. Robinson had only 21 assists all season before the game and, according to basketball reference.com, had not registered double figures in assists since Feb. 11, 2009, when he had 15 for the Knicks against the Clippers.

The Celtics set the tone early -- it was 20-0 in points in the paint in the first quarter -- and the 39 points scored in the period represented a season high.

The Atlanta starters might as well have taken the night off. (Oh, wait, they did.) Josh Smith and Marvin Williams each had 2 points as the five Atlanta starters combined for 27 points. Even more revealing, the five Celtics starters had plus-minus ratings ranging from Paul Pierce (plus-35) to Ray Allen and Shaq (plus-26). The best Atlanta starters? Williams and Smith were only a minus-20.

ROOKIE BRADLEY DEBUTS
A rout allows coaches to empty the bench and both Doc Rivers and Larry Drew took advantage Monday night. In Rivers’ case, it meant giving No. 1 pick Avery Bradley a chance to make his professional debut. Bradley had missed the first 13 games of the season while recovering from a foot injury and, in the case of Sunday's contest, not getting in because the game was too close.

But this one was over early and Bradley played the final 6:11. He showed his defensive prowess, coming up with a steal and forcing two drives to go awry. At the other end, he was predictably rusty, missing both his field goal attempts -- badly. “Keep your head up,’’ Rivers told Bradley after a botched play. Rivers thinks Bradley has a chance to be an elite defender in the league -- and that’s saying something from a coach who cherishes defense over anything short of per diem.

ONE STREAK ENDED
One Celtics streak ended Sunday -- an eight-game winning streak over the Raptors. Another ended Monday -- a four-game losing streak against the Hawks. While the Celtics’ underwhelming play Sunday may have had more to do with their inspiring play Monday, another factor was their play against the Hawks last season. Not only did they lose all four games to the Hawks, they lost them by an average of 8.5 points a game.

The prevailing wisdom is that the Celtics are susceptible to athletic teams and, yes, they are an older, veteran and slower team. Atlanta is not. But when the Celtics defend like they did Monday, athleticism and age are merely concepts. The Hawks still remain the best team in the league in warmups. But once the bell rang Monday, they turned into pumpkins, thanks to relentless pressure by the Boston defense.

The Celtics now have a chance to put some more distance between them and some of their division rivals, as they play the Nets and Raptors before and after Thanksgiving. Both games are in Boston.

ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL
Paul Pierce has now played more games as a Celtic than Larry Bird. Hard to imagine, given that Bird played in parts of three decades for the Celtics. But so has Pierce, who, lest we forget, came to Boston in 1998. Monday night was his 898th game as a Celtic. By the time this season is over, he will, health permitting, have also passed Satch Sanders and Bob Cousy to move into fifth place. And should he play 80 games, he will pass Bill Russell and move into fourth.

If he does that, he will have played 964 games as a Celtic. Kevin McHale (971), Robert Parish (1,106) and John Havlicek (1,270) will still be ahead of him with McHale easily in reach for the following season (lockout permitting). Parish may even be catchable, but the incredibly resilient and durable Havlicek may be hard to pass.

C's off to a flying start

November, 22, 2010
11/22/10
7:50
PM ET
The Celtics established a season high for first-quarter scoring with their opening blitz of the Hawks, outscoring Atlanta by an astounding 39-13.

Their previous high for any quarter was 34 points on Nov. 11 against Miami.

The Celtics shot 72 percent in the quarter and had a 20-0 advantage in points in the paint.

The big question: Would it last? The Celtics started strong against Toronto on Sunday as well, only to lose the game. But they were never up by 26.

Game 14: Celtics vs. Hawks

November, 22, 2010
11/22/10
12:30
PM ET
(9-4, 4-3 away)     -- vs. --     (8-5, 3-4 home)
at Philips Arena, 7 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)

GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
The Boston Celtics may have been mentally unprepared for their previous two games, but they are likely to come out focused against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Celtics, who are coming off consecutive defeats for the first time all season, will look to avoid their fifth straight loss to the Hawks on Monday night.

After losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder 89-84 with Kevin Durant on the sidelines Friday night, Boston came up short in a 102-101 defeat in Toronto on Sunday.

"I know we're a better team than those two teams, I know we are," said Paul Pierce, who's last-second attempt clanked off the rim as the buzzer sounded. "It's just mentally coming out and having the right mindset. I don't think we have the right mindset coming into these games against opponents that we're supposed to beat."

Boston has surrendered 106.3 points per game in its previous three road games after limiting teams to 88.3 over the first four, and Kevin Garnett knows that the team needs to bring a better defensive effort going forward.

"We can't just show up. We've got to play some 'D,'" Garnett said after the game. "These teams we're playing against are very high-caliber offense teams. We know what they are. On paper they might not be whatever but as far as talent, this league has a lot of talent and you've got to respect that."

Read the full preview HERE.

FORSBERG'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Thorn in their side: The Hawks swept the regular-season series last year, topping Boston four times, including three times in January. There's a small rivalry here ever since Atlanta took Boston to seven games in the opening round of the 2007-08 playoffs, something coach Doc Rivers said actually contributed to Boston winning it all by providing Boston's first dose of adversity. If Boston got caught sleepwalking against Oklahoma City and Toronto, the Hawks should bring the best out of them (but it won't be easy on the second night of a back-to-back on the road).
  • Key player: Crawford: The NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Jamal Crawford, thrived against Boston last season, highlighted by a 28-point outburst in the last meeting. Boston's bench was woeful in Toronto and will need to improve its defensive intensity or Crawford has potential to outscore the group on his own (particularly if Nate Robinson is drafted to the starting lineup again should Rajon Rondo sit out with his sore left hamstring).
  • Bouncing back: The Celtics were 3-0 on the first game of back-to-backs before falling Sunday in Toronto. Boston is 1-2 on the second night of back-to-backs, including 0-2 on the road, showcasing just how tough this game will be for a veteran squad.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jared Sullinger
PTS AST STL MIN
14.3 2.2 0.7 28.8
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.2
AssistsE. Turner 4.5
StealsM. Smart 1.1
BlocksK. Olynyk 0.7