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Preview: Celtics-Hawks

By now we’ve all had a chance to watch and re-watch the inbound play that resulted in a layup for Rajon Rondo [1] and helped the Celtics [2] take Miami [3] to overtime, where they eventually won. (If not, Jess has an excellent re-cap [4] of Doc Rivers [5] explaining the ins and outs on the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday). The whole thing was wonderfully executed from Paul Pierce’s [6] pass (“Paul is the only guy that can make the pass,” Rivers said.) to Glen Davis [7]‘ screen that sprung Rondo to Rondo’s finish at the rim.

All of which brings up an interesting point. Rivers is generally acknowledged at a master of designing plays coming out of timeouts. That’s an anecdotal observation. It would be hard to track such a thing without watching tons of game tape from around the league. It might be possible to tell how successful a team was coming out of timeouts and tracing that back to the coach, but what if something hadn’t quite worked on that play? What if Rondo’s tip spun in and out? It was still a great play call.

A few seconds earlier Rivers had Ray Allen [8] isolated at the top of the key. Dwyane Wade [9] stripped Allen and went in for a dunk. We have no idea what play Rivers had drawn up because Allen never got a chance to run it. But on balance, we’ve seen the Celtics [10] score many points of out of timeouts with well-designed calls. (As an aside: One of the best I’ve ever seen at it was Villanova women’s coach Harry Perretta. He shared some of his plays with Pat Summitt who used them to help win a national championship.)

It’s interesting that some coaches don’t seem to even want to try to take advantage of the situation. George Karl [11] rather famously doesn’t have inbound plays at least until Chauncey Billups [12] demand that he draw some up. The Wizards [13] were running a promotion to have a fan draw up an inbound play, which seems ridiculous. But they’ve got other problems right [14] now [14].

At the very least, it’s to Rivers credit that he takes these situations seriously and does what he can to put his team in a position to make succeed.

CELTICS (25-8, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.9

Points Allowed: 92.3

Differential: +7.7

Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 100.6 (First)

Pace: 92.0 (19th)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo [15], Ray Allen [16], Paul Pierce [17], Rasheed Wallace [18], Kendrick Perkins [19]

Injuries: Kevin Garnett [20] (hyper-extended knee), Marquis Daniels [21] (thumb), Eddie House [22] (flu, questionable)

HAWKS [23] (22-12, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 104.4

Points Allowed: 97.8

Differential: +6.6 (Fourth)

Offensive Efficiency: 112.7 (Second)

Defensive Efficiency: 105.5 (12th)

Pace: 91.8 (22nd)

Likely Starters: Mike Bibby [24], Joe Johnson [25], Marvin Williams [26], Josh Smith [27], Al Horford [28]

Injuries: None.

Key Matchup: Tony Allen [29] vs. Jamal Crawford [30]

Every matchup in this game is a good one, so here’s one that’s a little under the radar. Crawford plays starter minutes (about 31 a game), so he won’t be matched up solely against T.A. Crawford has given the Hawks bench some life, which it didn’t have in previous seasons. He’s been given a little too much credit for Atlanta’s success this season, but he’s still a good offensive player and he has been a great fit. Allen’s defense has been strong since he returned to the lineup. Rivers continues to feel that he can be a good perimeter stopper for the Celtics. This is another chance for Allen to prove it.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: As expected, the Celtics were sloppy against Miami, turning the ball over a whopping 25 times. Timing can be just as important as conditioning when players come back from injuries, and the two things are probably related. A side effect of the Garnett injury is that the Celtics starters are getting a chance to work through their timing with Wallace in the lineup. Perkins and Wallace particularly have not played much together when Garnett is healthy, so if you’re looking for a bright side…

The Hawks in a Paragraph: Like last year the Hawks started out the season hot. This was noted with caution. Then they stayed hot, winning six straight and people began to take them seriously. The Hawks then lost back-to-back games with the Cavs [31] and let Nate Robinson [32] score 41 points against them after he had been banished to the dark end of Mike D’Antoni’s bench. They had a players-only meeting and beat the Nets [33] by 30, so they’ve got something to prove.

What to Watch For: The key to Atlanta’s success this season on offense is that the Hawks don’t turn the ball over. They lead the league in Turnover Rate (fewest turnovers per game, adjusted for pace). The Celtics are one of the best teams at creating turnovers so this is shaping up as a pretty classic game within the game construction.