It wouldn't be a Celtics v Hawks Game 6 preview/Game 5 breakdown without ESPN's Celtics Whisperer Chris Forsberg joining Sam Packard and Jared Weiss for some WEEI Studio magic. They discuss the Hawks' transition dominance on their mega runs and the bizarre night for Isaiah Thomas. Of course they also answered your #WEEICeltics Tweet Bag questions!

Feb 11, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer (right) and Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (left) watch from the sideline in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated Atlanta 89-88. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (left) and Mike Budenholzer (right) are having quite the matchup in the first round. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

There’s been plenty of talk over the last three games about the coaching moves made by Brad Stevens and Mike Budenholzer. 

There was Stevens changing his lineup and inserting Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner into the starting lineup with great results before Game 3. There was Stevens going with a small lineup that gave the Hawks fits, especially in the fourth quarter of both games in Boston and there were the two timeouts call by Budenholzer with 15 seconds left in regulation of Game 4. He proceeded to watch his point guard dribble out the clock without actually getting a shot up at the rim as the game went to overtime, where the Celtics dominated and tied the series. 

The advantage went back to Budenholzer on Tuesday as his decision to stay with a perimeter was rewarded when the Hawks connected on 14-of-35 shots from beyond the arc. Budenholzer also took a page out of Stevens’ book by going smaller and moving Paul Millsap to center for long stretches of the game. 

But Stevens said in a conference call Wednesday it’s important not to become overly obsessed with turning the game into a chess match. 

“I think that’s what you have to look at. I think that’s what you have to figure out. I think you always start with a mountain-load of information and your desire is to get to basketball in its simplest form,” Stevens said. 

“I’ve shared this quote before, my old boss at Butler used to quote Lincoln when he said, ‘I apologize for the length of this letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.’ I think that that’s a coach’s job, is to try to make it as short, simple and sweet as possible and then let guys go out there and play a fast game with a clear mind, and that’s the bottom line, that’s my job and that’s what I’ll stay up thinking about doing. The goal will just be to go out and do our stuff as well as we can.”

The thing that’s killed the Celtics in this series is giving up too many double-digit runs to the Hawks where the Celtics either don’t score or put up very little resistance. Of course, Game 2 featured the 24-3 run by the Hawks to start the game. There were two such runs Tuesday that did them in, a 26-6 second-quarter spurt that turned a 10-point Celtic lead into a 10-point hole in a heartbeat. In the third quarter, the Celtics were within striking distance at 66-57. Then the Hawks scored 18 of the next 19 points to put the game away. In total, the Celtics were outscored 70-33 from midway through the second quarter to the start of the fourth. 

Every NBA game, even in the playoffs, will have its fair share of runs. But the difference in this series is that the team making them usually wins the game. 

“I think in four of the five games, and I don’t know exactly what the run would be in the first game, but they’ve hit us with major runs, yesterday they hit us with two,” Stevens said. “They hit us with the one in the second quarter and then they hit us with the one at the end of the third quarter. It was a six-point game with six minutes left in the third and we had struggled to score, but we were up with six minutes left in the second.

“I think that we’ve got to do a great job of not getting overanxious, offensively, not creating points for them by turning the ball over or taking quick shots and then making sure that we’re just better defensively than we were. There were a lot of things, again — we could talk about one or two things, you have a game like that with the runs that they had, it’s a lot more than one or two things.

 

“Listen, there’s not a person around that respects how good they are and how well-coached they are than me. You anticipate that they’re going to come out with a great sense of urgency and a great way about them, and execute whatever they’re trying to do well with whoever is on the floor.

“And so, whether it’s showing Isaiah a little more attention or playing small or whatever the case may be, whatever they decide to do, the way can operate, they’re going to do it full-go and that’s what makes it go. That’s what makes it work is that that’s a connected group and a really well-coached group. And it’s why we’ve had our hands full from the get-to. It’s been a fun series to compete in and it’s going to be a fun series to compete in [Thursday] night.”  

 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0). (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) in Game 4. (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens can certainly understand the frustration Isaiah Thomas was feeling during the Game 5 loss in Atlanta. 

For just the second time this season, he was held to single-digit scoring. He missed his first five shots and finished just 3-of-12. He faced double and triple-teams all night. Of course, to top it all off, he sprained his left ankle on his final basket of the night. 

After the game, Thomas was vocal about the fact that other teammates are going to have to step up when they’re putting so much emphasis on stopping him. 

On Wednesday, Stevens watched the film and answered some of Isaiah’s concerns from an Xs and Os standpoint. 

“I thought in retrospect, as you go back and watch the film, we handled it really well in those first 18 or 20 minutes,” Stevens said. “We had our opportunities and at the end of the day, you have to take advantage of as many of them as you can, realizing you are not going to play a perfect game. You got to continue to be aggressive passing out of it and guys have to continue to be aggressive driving and playing and making plays for others out of it.

“There are certain things we’ll look to do should they decide to stay with that. I think obviously they did a good job and their energy level was really good. They just executed what they wanted to do really, really well last night. I’m talking about Atlanta here. I think that Isaiah has been trapped before. He’s been trapped quite a bit. I thought yesterday his reads at the start of the game were really good.”

What hurt the Celtics was the same thing that has hurt them all season. When Isaiah Thomas hasn’t scored they’ve struggled to find a consistent second scoring option. Some nights it’s Jae Crowder, some nights Evan Turner and some nights Jared Sullinger. But none of those three require a full game plan to stop. Thomas does. 

“You just have to make the right basketball play and he’s got good teammates around him who have had great years,” Stevens continued. “We didn’t shoot it as well as we would have liked last night but I believe in each one of those guys, as does Isaiah.

When the Celtics weren’t struggling on offense, they were having trouble finding the open shooter on the perimeter again, especially in the third quarter, when Atlanta converted five of their 14 3-pointers on the night, scoring 42 points in the process. 

“I think transition was the biggest thing and then we had some positions where we probably over-rotated a few times in the half court,” Stevens said. 

The Celtics’ zone defense has had its moments when it’s been very effective in matching up against Atlanta’s sharp-shooters. Then there were times like last night where it failed them. Stevens, during his conference call Wednesday, made it sound like the zone is still a gimmick in the Celtics defensive playbook. 

“We don’t spend a lot of time on it. We practice it very, very little,” Stevens said. “Obviously, [Tuesday] night, they had a couple of baskets against it. The first one I felt like was handled [well] and got a shot you’d look for, which was a 10-foot contested floater. The second time we didn’t get to [Kent] Bazemore, but the other day it was great to us. Maybe it was Game 3 at home, where they went scoreless against it. Sometime it’s very productive, sometimes it’s not. But we’re not going to spend a lot of time on it since we don’t play it a lot.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

There was some good news Wednesday in the wake of Tuesday’s meltdown in Atlanta. Isaiah Thomas and his turned left ankle will be able to play in Game 6 

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores around Hawks forwards Thabo Sefolosha (25) and Paul Millsap (4) during the first half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores around Hawks forwards Thabo Sefolosha (25) and Paul Millsap (4) during Game 4. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

There was some good news Wednesday in the wake of Tuesday’s meltdown in Atlanta. Isaiah Thomas and his turned left ankle will be able to play in Game 6 

“Every update I’ve gotten is positive. Isaiah seems really positive about it, feels good I’m sure they’ll take extra looks at it now that we’ve arrived home but the swelling wasn’t bad and he feels good,” Stevens said in a Wednesday afternoon conference call. “So all signs point toward him being ready to go tomorrow.”

Thomas turned the left ankle on a drive to the basket with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter Tuesday, with the Celtics trailing 93-62. 

Marcus Smart was at the scorer’s table waiting to come in for Thomas but not before the Celtics’ leading scorer came down awkwardly on the left foot and rolling the ankle. On the next possession down the court, Thomas grabbed Al Horford on a foul and hobbled directly to the Celtics locker room where he began treatment on the ankle.

The injury was diagnosed as a mild sprain and he did not return to the bench or the game. 

The news on Avery Bradley is that there really isn’t any, except that he did some jogging the other day and had the expected soreness after a significant right hamstring strain. 

 “There’s nothing new from my end that I’ve been told,” Stevens said. “I did not ask today but as I’ve said all along it would be extremely unlikely that he would be able to suit up in this series. The injury plus just what a hamstring injury can do moving forward is something that we just have to be very, very careful with, and Avery’s got to be very, very careful with.

“He feels better. As of two days ago or yesterday he had done a little bit more jogging, etc., but had experienced some soreness after that, which is not atypical for trying to come back from a hamstring injury. From everything I’ve been told, I’ve shared it with you the whole time.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

From left, Evan Turner, Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk and the rest of the Celtics must solve the Hawks.</p>
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Doc Rivers (right) and Brad Stevens now standing at opposite ends. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

What a difference three years makes.



Isaiah Thomas needs help from his teammates, which he made clear after the Celtics' Game 5 loss Tuesday night.</p>
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ATLANTA — For just the second time during the 2015-16 campaign, Isaiah Thomas failed to reach double-digits, finishing with a season-low seven points during his Celtics’ 110-83, Game 5 loss to the Hawks, Tuesday night at Phillips Arena.

Isaiah Thomas scored a season-low seven points Tuesday night. (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas scored a season-low seven points Tuesday night. (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)

ATLANTA — For just the second time during the 2015-16 campaign, Isaiah Thomas failed to reach double-digits, finishing with a season-low seven points during his Celtics’ 110-83, Game 5 loss to the Hawks, Tuesday night at Phillips Arena.

Thomas also clocked in with a minus-33 in his 29 minutes, the worst plus-minus number of any Celtics player during a postseason game since the stat started being charted in 1985. But after the game, Thomas — whose exit from the game came after hurting his left ankle in the fourth quarter — was all about what how the Hawks played him, and how his teammates did, or didn’t, respond.

“That was their game-plan. They put two or three guys on me every time I touched the ball,” Thomas said. “Their game-plan was to let the other guys beat us. It should be a sign of disrespect to my teammates to put two on the ball every time I have it. Other guys have to step up and make plays, that’s what it comes down to. If they try and do it again in Game 6, it comes down to other guys making plays. I’m just going to try and get the ball out as quickly as possible, out of the trap, out of the two or three guys on me. But other guys have to make shots, and other guys have to make plays for us to win.

“It’s tough for me because I feel like I can score on anything. But as a point guard I have to make the right play and I got to trust my teammates. And I know once my teammates do knock down shots, or make the right play out of the double-team, i’s going to open up for me throughout the game. Today it didn’t happen. But we knew they would make adjustments, and now we have to make adjustments and other guys have to step up.”

The Hawks’ strategy was apparent early on, with Thomas not able to freelance through the Atlanta defense as he had done for much of the series. Thomas failed to score a single point in the first half, marking the third time this season that has happened. This time it lead to the Celtics scoring just 39 points, while carrying an eight-point deficit into halftime.

“A team never really did what Atlanta did [Tuesday],” Thomas said. “They really had two or three guys on me the whole time. Face-guarding me. When I got it they showed all five guys. They wasn’t worried about anybody else. Guys have to adjust. Guys have to make plays. And once we make shots, like we do at home, and make plays, like we do at home, they can’t do that.”

And when told that Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer downplayed the Hawks’ adjustment to pay more attention to Thomas, the guard chuckled and said, “He’s lying if he’s playing it down. Obviously, their job today was make others beat us. Take the ball out of my hands. When I came off of pick-and-rolls they kept two guys on me until I passed it. They didn’t do that in Game 3. They did that throughout the game, but not the whole game in Game 4. Not as much. Today was like an emphasis on it.”

Had Thomas ever experienced anything like this? So many defenders worried about just him, without much attention at all spent toward any of his teammates?

“Back in high school,” Thomas said. “They used to do box-and-one’s and stuff. But not in the NBA.”

Did he figure it out? “Yeah, I did,” Thomas quipped. “I just shot more.” If it was only that easy.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford