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BOSTON (CBS) – The Celtics need to take care of business Thursday night at home.
It is time to close out the Hawks and hope the Bulls extend their series with the 76ers to a Game 7 on Saturday, giving Boston the rest they didn’t earn Tuesday night.
After fighting back, only to let Game 5 slip away in Atlanta, the Celtics should be a motivated bunch when they take the Garden floor Thursday evening. They’ll have an amped up Boston crowd to play in front of, and a Hawks team once again with their backs against the wall.
That in itself makes Atlanta a scary team. But things will be much different now that they are in Boston and not playing in front of their half-supporting crowd at Phillips Arena. They put up a great fight in Game 3 before getting embarrassed in a Game 4 rout, but Atlanta has not won a game in the Garden in two years.
For Boston, the key will be containing Al Horford. The Hawks’ center has made a big difference since returning for Atlanta in Game 4, giving Boston a tough matchup to deal with. When Ivan Johnson and Eric Dampier were on the floor, Boston could focus on Josh Smith, forcing him into bad jump shots and keeping him from the flow of the game. With Horford back, Smith has another dance partner underneath the basket, and the Celtics have had no answer for Horford in the paint. His 19 points and 11 boards Tuesday night gave Atlanta the edge they needed, and his defense at the end of the game kept Rajon Rondo from having any chance at another highlight for Celtics lore.
On their own end, Boston has to get some production from the bench from someone not named Ray Allen. While Allen has averaged over 13 points off the pine in the three games he’s played in, it is time for guys like Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus to step up as well. With Rajon Rondo a spectator for Game 2, Dooling scored 10 points, but has just eight points in 31 minutes since. Pietrus, although his focus has been mainly on defense, is just 3-for-14 this series, with just one of those attempts from inside the three-point arc (he hit it).
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Even when James Posey was relied to come in and shut down the likes of Lebron James and Kobe Bryant in 2008, the Celtics still relied on him to hit shots. Pietrus needs to do the same. In the last two games, his reluctance to even take shots has come into play; something no one would have imagined after watching the Frenchman early in the season. If nothing else, Pietrus needs to show Atlanta he’ll shoot, just to attract some attention. What good is a decoy if he’s standing all by himself?
But what will be most important for the Celtics on Thursday night is to attack the basket; challenge the Hawks inside, and get Horford in foul trouble as early as you can. Attack, attack, and attack some more. Paul Pierce didn’t attempt a single free throw in Game 5, and has attempted just three freebies in Boston’s two losses in the series. His dinged up knee has something to do with his night off from the charity stripe on Tuesday, but Pierce is at his best when he goes to the hoop. Even if he drives just to dish, he’ll draw attention, setting up Garnett, Allen or anyone else who wants to shoot.
For the Celtics, it is time to gut it out for one more game against the pesky Hawks, and hope to get a few days off before their next series. If both the Celtics and Philly advance Thursday night, Game 1 would be Saturday in Boston. Not much rest for the ailing vets in green, but they blew that chance on Tuesday.
The Celtics should win Game 6. If not, Saturday night will be one interesting Game 7 in Atlanta.