Celtics-Hawks Preview

The Boston Celtics have gained a reputation as a very good

defensive team the last few years, but that wasn’t the case at all

during a recent four-game skid.

While they returned to form for at least one night, they will

need more consistency to get back on track after sliding below

.500.

Boston will also try to snap a three-game road losing streak

when it faces the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.

The Celtics (15-17) ended a four-game slide with Friday’s 94-75

win against Indiana after entering the contest a season-worst three

games below .500.

“You could tell we needed this win, and that’s how we came out

tonight,” said Kevin Garnett, who tied a team high with 18 points

before he was ejected in the fourth quarter for a Flagrant 2 foul

when he flailed his hands and hit Tyler Hansbrough in the face.

“We needed a win. Tonight was the night to stop the bleeding. I

felt like we did that.”

In the four previous losses, Boston had allowed 104.5 points per

game and opponents shot 50.5 percent from the field. The Celtics

held teams to 97.0 ppg through their first 27.

Friday’s performance was much closer to the trademark defense

Boston has played largely since acquiring Garnett in the summer of

2007. The Celtics led the league in field-goal percentage defense

(43.1) and scoring defense (92.1) over the last five seasons.

They limited Indiana to a season-low 31.8 percent shooting. Paul

George and David West – the team’s top two scorers – finished with

a total of 19 points on 8 of 36 from the field.

“It was only a matter of time before their defense bounced back

and it bounced back in a big way tonight,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel

said.

The Celtics will still need better offense too, as they averaged

84.8 points during their slump, and Friday’s output was below the

season mark of 95.4.

Finding sources of offense has been a challenge with only two

players reaching the 20-point mark in the last six games. Paul

Pierce and Jason Terry each had 20 in a 118-96 loss at Sacramento

on Dec. 30. Rajon Rondo’s 11.6 assists still lead the NBA, but that

figure accounts for more than half of the team’s game average

(23.1).

Josh Smith continues to lead the Hawks (20-11) with 16.9 ppg,

but Atlanta isn’t getting many contributions from outside its

starting lineup.

Better scoring from the reserves could be even more crucial

going forward as Smith aggravated a hip pointer in Friday’s 85-84

loss at Detroit, though he scored a team-high 20. He missed a game

Dec. 29 with a similar injury.

Atlanta’s bench is averaging 26.4 points over an eight-game span

since Dec. 21, one of the league’s lowest figures during that

stretch. They were outscored 41-14 by the Pistons’ second unit,

though the Hawks reeled off a 16-0 run to cut the deficit to 83-82

with 3:13 left.

“Josh said he could still go, but when we got down 17 late in

the third, I got him out of there,” coach Larry Drew said. “After

that, when the guys were making a run, I didn’t want to change

things. I did put Josh out there for the last possession, though.

He wanted to be out there.”

Boston has won four of six against Atlanta, including two of

three last season. Rondo had a triple-double (10 points, 20

assists, 10 rebounds) in an 88-86 victory on April 11.