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Game 4: Celtics need to make better use of Kevin Garnett

05.05.12 at 8:21 pm ET
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Doc Rivers wants better shots for Kevin Garnett in Game 4. (AP)

On the one hand, Kevin Garnett has attempted 50 shots in the first three games of the Celtics’ first round playoff series with the Hawks. That’s right around the number of attempts they want out of him. On the other, he’s made only 44 percent of those shots and coach Doc Rivers is concerned that he’s not getting enough open space.

Game 3 was a “little better,” in Rivers’ opinion. Garnett shot 50 percent (9-for-18) and took more than half of those shots from within 15 feet. His follow-up slam at the end of overtime put an exclamation point on the Celtics’ 90-84 victory, as well as his 20-point, 13-rebound performance.

Still, Rivers wants more.

“We have to do a better job as far as Kevin goes,” he said. “I thought early in the game it was lot of jump shots, and we don’t mind that because he’s a great shooter. But we’ve also got to get him down low. It felt like the only way we can get him in the right spot is through an ATO [after timeout], and we have to be able to do that through the flow.”

Garnett’s usually reliable jumper has been shaky. He’s made only 11-of-33 from his beloved 18-20 foot range. That’s a steep decline from the 48 percent he shot in the regular season. Garnett has had only six attempts at the rim and half of those came in Game 3, so Rivers is right. It was a little better.

The biggest problem the Celtics have had in this series is scoring points. Yes, Joe Johnson forced the overtime by sinking a low percentage contested 3, but that’s what Johnson does and it’s part of what makes playing the Hawks a scary proposition. They’re going to make some of them eventually, no matter how good your defense plays.

The real reason the Celtics went to overtime was because they were stuck on 80 for the final four minutes of the game. In those final four minutes, Rondo missed two shots. Pierce missed two shots and committed an offensive foul. It wasn’t until the 40-second mark when Garnett got a look and it was tough 18-footer.

Part of the issue may have been fatigue. Rivers acknowledged after the game that he stuck with Garnett thinking the Celtics could deliver the knockout blow. Instead, they became trapped in yet another grind-it-out slugfest with the Hawks.

“I got stuck with Kevin, honestly,” Rivers said. “Sometimes, honestly, as a coach you take a gamble. You think we can get this, put it away and get guys out. And it backfired.”

Garnett has played 122 minutes in this series, a far cry from the carefully cultivated 5-5-5 plan that routinely resulted in 30-minute nights.

“The way my body feels right now I feel like I went 40-40-40,” said Garnett, which is accurate because he has.

Defensively, he is giving them everything they need. Without Josh Smith, the Hawks used smaller lineups and the only real way the Celtics can matchup is by taking Brandon Bass off the floor and leaving Garnett to patrol the paint. (It was also not helpful that Avery Bradley injured his shoulder late in the third quarter and wasn’t able to return).

Garnett has been excellent on the defensive glass, grabbing 27 percent of the available defensive boards. They have only allowed 17 offensive rebounds and their .784 defensive rebounding percentage ranks third in the league during the postseason. All the Celtics have been making an effort on the defensive boards, but it’s Garnett who sets the tone, especially when he’s the only big on the floor.

“He was terrific,” Rivers said. “Kevin had to do all the talking. He was basically the linebacker on the floor. All by himself and that’s hard. That’s a hard job to do.”

As always with Garnett, there’s the constant tension of doing what he does so well and then giving a little bit more. The Celtics have survived three games of this tight series without a vintage scoring performance, even with a 20 and 13 game on 9-for-18 shooting.

HEALTH AND WELLNESS

Avery Bradley injured his shoulder late in the third quarter. At first, the team’s PR staff said he would return. Then they changed course and said he was out. Bradley said that he’s be all right as he made his way out of the locker room, but Rivers painted a more dire portrait.

“Shoulder went out and he’s had that problem all year,” Rivers said. “Usually they’re able to, like a leg, they’ll snap it back in. It wouldn’t go back in. So, we’ll find out.”

Without Bradley, and with the Hawks playing small, Rivers used Ray Allen for 36 minutes in his first back in over three weeks. Afterward, Allen said that his ankle was “a little bit mad at me.”

The Celtics are operating under the assumption that Allen might have to miss more games during the playoff run. There’s no way to get it “right,” without surgery to remove bone spurs.

“What everyone was trying to do was eliminate it so when he comes back, he comes back,” Rivers said. “I don’t think we’re thinking in those terms anymore. We’re just going to go game in and game out and see how he goes.”

The Hawks are dealing with their own injury situation as Josh Smith tries to return from a sprained knee. Without Smith, Atlanta coach Larry Drew brought Erick Dampier out of mothballs before riding with his multi-wing combinations.Game to game strategy has been dictated in part by who’s available and who’s not, making those gametime decisions extremely important.

BENCH CONCERNS

It’s a long-held belief in NBA circles that rotation players will fare far better at home than they do on the road (Copyright: Hubie Brown). The Celtics turned that conventional wisdom on its head as their bench played huge minutes in Game 2 in Atlanta and then was reduced to a seven-player rotation again in Game 3.

Rivers used 10 players, but Greg Stiemsma, Keyon Dooling and Ryan Hollins combined to play just 14 minutes with most of them coming in the first half. Stiemsma was great in Game 1, less so in Game 2 and productive in Game 3 in short minutes. Atlanta’s small lineups helped negate Stiemsma’s role, but one of them needs to assert themselves to help give Garnett a break.

Game 2 hero Marquis Daniels didn’t get in the game and neither did Sasha Pavlovic, who’s been his typical up and down self. With Allen and Mickael Pietrus back in their reserve roles, Rivers rode those two for over 60 minutes of time and they both came up big. Allen had 13 points and six rebounds and Pietrus cranked a pair of 3′s and provided defensive support.

“He was great,” Rivers said. “That’s why we got him. The made shots are the gravy with him. He’s a terrific on-ball defender and that’s what he does.”

Much will depend on Allen and Bradley’s availability for Game 4, but Rivers hinted that he’d continue to use more players.

“We may stay deep,” he said before the game “With some of our guys who need rest it’s very difficult. This may be a playoff run we use a deeper rotation.”

REBOUNDS, TURNOVERS AND FREE THROWS

You haven’t heard a lot about the Celtics’ struggles on the glass, or in the turnover department. There’s a good reason for that. They’ve been strong in both categories. They ranked 25th in turnover percentage during the regular season, but have only 39 through the first three games. They ranked 20th in defensive rebounding percentage (.724) and they are fourth among teams in the postseason with a strong .789 percentage.

Those two areas have been their biggest statistical concern throughout the regular season, but where they are winning these games is at the free throw line. They’ve attempted 13 more free throws than Atlanta and made 16 more. That’s a huge number when you consider how close these games have been. The Celtics have outscored Atlanta by just four points, 251-247 in the three games and there’s no way they would have won Game 3 without being +10 at the line.

Pierce took 14 free throws by himself in Game 3, or one fewer than the Hawks as a team. His 30 free throw attempts are second behind LeBron James through three games and his 27 makes are the most in the league.

For the Celtics to continue winning, they need to continue playing well in all three facets.

Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Avery Bradley, Kevin Garnett, Mickael Pietrus
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