Season Series: Hawks lead 2-0 having most recently defeated the Celtics 93-85 last Friday at Phillips Arena
Injuries: The Hawks come in healthy, Boston will be without Kevin Garnett who is nursing an injured knee.
TV: Fox SportSouth, NBATV Radio: 790thezone
The Hawks look to take the season series from the Celtics and to bounce back from Saturday’s bad loss against the Orlando Magic. It is always an intense atmosphere when these two teams collide and Monday night’s match up should be no different. Recently the Hawks have been anything but consistent. Sprinkling a couple of good performances in amongst a spattering of bad. These match ups against the Cavaliers, Magic, and Celtics are how the games will be played during the playoffs. If the team thinks it can equal or push past last seasons benchmark then they are going to have to find a way to eliminate the bad effort and intensity that they sometimes bring.
If the Hawks are to be successful against the Celtics then they have to have a strong effort on the defensive end of the court. With Garnett out, Josh Smith becomes a very difficult match up for the much slower Celtic front line. In the first match up in Boston the Hawks killed the Celtics with offensive rebounding. That effort will need to be repeated in Monday night’s game. The Hawks will have to defend the perimeter as they can not withstand Rasheed Wallace getting open look after open look from 3 the way he did Sunday against Toronto. I am sure that the Hawks will employ their switching every ball screen strategy, which has become a Coach Woodson staple, so they must maintain optimum effort during on the ball defense as well as help defense.
Offensively the Hawks are at their best when they play through Joe Johnson. Any night that Joe has 7 or 8 assists the Hawks are hard to beat. The problem with this is too often Joe slows down the ball movement by forcing the issue and thus stagnates the offense. The Hawks provide some tough match ups for the Celtics across the board besides the a fore mentioned Josh Smith. The greatest weapon the Hawks have against the Celtics is for them to push the ball up in transition. Defense and rebounding directly lead to transition offense and that is an area that the Celtics are simply no match for the Hawks.
Three weeks ago I would have been a lot more confident going into this game. Now I am currently in wait and see mode. This team is still very much capable of playing elite basketball but has more recently proven that they are just as capable of stinking up whatever arena they happen to be in. The answers are simple. Two or three seasons ago the Hawks needed Joe Johnson to save them on a nightly basis for the team to have a chance to win. They don’t need that anymore and more often when Joe tries to force the issue it just adds to more problems than solutions. I like to call it basic basketball. Play from the inside out and share the ball making the extra pass in the process. Defend with passion and crash the boards. Push the basketball up the court and attack. In other words play fundamental basketball.
That may sound simple, but what I have seen when the Hawks have played fundamental basketball they have won more often than not. On those nights that they played with that effort and lost we could talk about their game plan or other coaching decisions but that isn’t what this is about. The fact remains when they do the little things they win or at least have a chance to win. That is a far cry from what I saw this team give in Orlando. So Monday night I will be watching for defensive intensity, rebounding, and making the extra pass. Some people who look for a complicated answer would call that formula a coaching cliche. I call it the formula for success.