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Irish Coffee: 5 questions Celtics must solve in Game 6
Posted By Ben Rohrbach On May 9, 2012 @ 2:04 pm In General | 64 Comments
In many ways, the Game 5 loss was simply a string of statistical Celtics anomalies that favored the Hawks.
Of course, there are reasons for those anomalies, so how must the Celtics adjust to avoid a Game 7 on the road?
THE WAR OF ATTRITION
At series start, Ray Allen was the biggest — and maybe only — question mark on the Celtics injury list. Meanwhile, injuries decimated the Hawks frontcourt, only made worse by Josh Smith‘s Game 2 knee strain.
What a difference a few days makes. Pierce (knee), Avery Bradley (shoulder), Mickael Pietrus (hamstring), Greg Stiemsma (feet) and Kevin Garnett (hip) are all hobbled to various degrees, and Allen is among few fresh Celtics.
“I don’t really think it [left knee] bothered me too much,” Pierce told reporters in Atlanta  after shooting 7-of-17 and failing to get to the free throw line. “I didn’t really try to think about it. I probably was a little step slower. I didn’t have my usual lift that I usually do. But I don’t think it really affected me, too much. I mean, I’m not a high-riser anyway.”
While the Celtics limp their way back to Boston, Josh Smith returned to form in recording his fourth double-double in as many games (13 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists), and Al Horford produced 19 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three steals in just his second game back since Jan. 11. Combined, the two gave the Hawks eight extra possessions on the offensive glass and blocked four C’s shots on the defensive end in Game 5.
What kind of ramifications will Pierce’s knee (he sat for a 7:38 stretch from the late third quarter through the early fourth) and Horford’s conditioning (played 41 minutes in Game 5) have on the remainder of the series?
THE MATCH GAME
In the first four games, Celtics coach Doc Rivers stayed a step ahead of Hawks counterpart Larry Drew. Rivers adjusted minute-to-minute, and Drew reacted game-to-game. When Atlanta announced Marvin Williams‘ insertion into the starting lineup early Tuesday, giving the C’s ample time to adjust, it seemed like more of the same.
“The Boston Celtics are going to make you grind for every bucket, every point,” Smith admitted postgame . “You have to think and outsmart them on a lot of plays because their defensive I.Q. is almost perfect.”
The Hawks finally took advantage of a move the Celtics anticipated in Game 1, sliding 6-foot-7 Joe Johnson into the shooting guard spot opposite the shorter Bradley, and perhaps Rivers stewed on it too much, playing the veteran Allen 30 minutes off the bench to Bradley’s 18 and sacrificing defense for offense.
In 18 minutes, Bradley and Pierce respectively held Johnson and Williams to six points on 2-for-14 shooting (0-5 3P) and forced them into four turnovers. In the remaining 30 minutes — largely with Pierce on Johnson and Allen on Williams — that Hawks duo scored 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting (4-6 3P) and committed just two turnovers.
Williams shot 3-of-3 from beyond the arc with Allen on the floor and 0-for-3 with Bradley playing. Coincidence?BENCH PRESSING
After Horford and Williams joined the starting lineup, the Hawks trotted out over-30 shells of their former selves Erick Dampier, Tracy McGrady, Kirk Hinrich and Willie Green off the bench. The result was a 25-9 scoring advantage for the Celtics reserves, aided of course by Allen’s 15 points.
And that was without much if any contribution from Mickael Pietrus offensively. He scored two points on four shots, and he passed up an open 3-pointer moments before Pierce’s air-ball. Repeat: Pietrus passed up an open 3. For the series, he’s shooting 3-of-14 from the field (21.4%) and 2-of 13 from 3-point range (15.4%) for eight points. Pietrus scored more than eight points in 15 of his 42 games during the regular season.
Sure, athletic Ryan Hollins (5 points) outworked unathletic Dampier, and Keyon Dooling continued his surprising contribution (8-14 FG, 5-9 3P for the series), but the C’s could take more advantage of Atlanta’s awful bench.
Smith, Johnson, Horford and Jeff Teague all played more than 40 minutes, and Williams played 35. Only Rondo played more than 40 minutes for the Celtics, and that could pay dividends in Game 6, barring health issues. So, can Drew continue to ride his starters that much, and can Rivers extract more from Pietrus & Co.?
FROM START TO FINISH
Outside of Game 4, when the Celtics took an early 17-9 lead on their way to a 101-79 blowout, the Hawks have outscored the C’s by 21 (53-32) in the first five minutes of the remaining four games, in which the two teams are separated by all of three points. The Hawks are frontrunners, and the early leads only feed their confidence.
“We have just to come out and play hard again,” Teague told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution after Game 5. “It’s going to be a hostile environment. We’ve just got to get past those first five minutes and we’ll be fine.”
In the final five minutes and change of Games 1, 2, 3 and 5 — when the Hawks pit their five best against the C’s top five — the Celtics have outscored Atlanta each time, by a total of 14 points (46-32).
We know how these playoff-tested Celtics can finish games, but how will they start against the Hawks in Game 6?
Johnson earned his sixth consecutive NBA All-Star Game selection this winter, and for good reason. He averaged 18.8 points while shooting a fairly efficient 45.4 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from 3-point range.
His 8.5 estimated wins added  this season ranked higher than anyone on the Celtics but Pierce, but neither of the Hawks victories and perhaps all three of their losses this series can be pinned on Johnson.
In three regular-season games against the Celtics, Johnson averaged 23.0 points while shooting 48.1 percent from the field (25-52 FG) and 50.0 percent from 3-point range (7-14 3P), but he’s been unable to match that in the playoffs, producing 17.2 points per game but shooting only 36.5 percent from the field (23.3 3P%).
Since 2007-08, in 13 games at the TD Garden, the former Celtics first-round draft pick has shot just 38.8 percent from the field (84-216 FG), including his 11-of-28 performance in Game 3 of this series.
Johnson is capable of scoring 30 points on any given night, but can the Celtics contain him again in Boston?
(Have a question, concern or conception for the next Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach  on Twitter.)
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 told reporters in Atlanta: http://espn.go.com/blog/boston/celtics/post/_/id/4693294/pierce-downplays-knee-ailment
 Smith admitted postgame: http://blogs.ajc.com/hawks/2012/05/09/atlanta-hawks-hawks-87-celtics-86/?cxntfid=blogs_hawks
 Image: http://greenstreet.weei.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Pietrus.jpg
 estimated wins added: http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/statistics?sort=VORPe&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fnba%2fhollinger%2fstatistics%3fsort%3dVORPe
 @brohrbach: https://twitter.com/#!/brohrbach
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