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Boston Celtics–Atlanta Hawks: Game 6 Preview

May 6, 2012; Boston, MA USA; Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague (0) drives the ball against Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) in the second quarter of game four in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. The Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 101-79. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

When Rajon Rondo was suspended for Game 2, the Boston Celtics still found a way to win in Atlanta.  With Josh Smith out of the lineup for Game 3, the Hawks nearly returned the favor of getting a road win without their star player.  In the end, the Celtics held off the Hawks in overtime.  Al Horford found his way back to the court in Game 4 after a 4-month layoff, but his teammates were just as rusty as he was as the Celtics routed Atlanta.  With a game under his belt, Horford played a whopping 41 minutes, scored 19 points and pulled 11 rebounds, and led the Hawks to a Game 5 victory.

At last, we will our first official Game 6 of the postseason!

Keys for Atlanta

If not for Horford’s tremendous stop on Rajon Rondo during the final seconds of Game 5, The Hawks could have gone fishin’ by now.  To me, the turning point of Game 5 was Horford stepping up his defense in the 2nd half.  It helped him get into a groove offensively, as well.  He did a good job on Brandon Bass, closing out on his 17-20 footers – a range of shots which he seemingly never misses and earns him the nickname “Bass-O-Matic.”  After shaking off the rust in Game 4, Horford reminded us why he is such an important piece to Atlanta on both ends of the court – whether he was hitting perimeter shots, or providing a defensive presence in the interior.

As encouraging as Horford’s comeback has been, Atlanta has several issues to address elsewhere.  In Game 5, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith were a combined 12-33 (36%) from the field and turned the ball over 8 times – in large part due to Rondo’s omnipresence on the Hawks’ passing lanes.  They managed to squeak by last time, but they MUST shoot better and take better care of the ball if the Hawks have any chance of forcing a Game 7.  Jeff Teague and Marvin Williams – who caught fire from beyond the arc in the 2nd quarter to rally the Hawks back from an early deficit – must continue to make significant contributions, as well.

Keys for Boston

The Celtics nearly closed out the series on Tuesday night despite a mediocre performance from Paul Pierce (16 points on 7-17 FG), thanks to some pesky defense – especially from Rajon Rondo.  When Rondo is locked in defensively, he causes absolute havoc on the Hawks’ offense.  Johnson and Smith probably had nightmares of Rondo, who deflected several of their passes and had five steals in the game.  He even picked off Josh Smith’s inbound pass at the end of Game 5 to give the Celtics one last chance to finish off the series.

To finish off the Hawks, the Celtics must capitalize on being at home and muster the energy they usually do at the Boston Garden.  Avery Bradley  has done a good job harassing Joe Johnson, who has been quite shaky with the ball in this series.  Also, I think Doc Rivers’s priority should be to slow down Al Horford.  To do this, I think he will have Kevin Garnett match up against him.  If Pierce puts his imprint on the game early and if Garnett can slow down Al Horford, the Celtics should find a way to close out the series.

Prediction

Al Horford is only getting more comfortable since his return from injury, and will make it tough for Boston again.  But this time, I think Doc Rivers will make an adjustment and make Josh Smith be the one taking outside jump shots instead of Horford.  Atlanta has also had trouble getting consistent contributions from its role players on the road, which was a big reason why they got blown out in Game 4 in Boston.  Unless Johnson and Smith are fantastic, I think Boston will feed off their home crowd in Game 6 and advance to the Conference Semis.

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