The Celtics Can Beat The Hawks Without Avery Bradley

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The Celtics lost game one of their first round match-up with the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night after one of the worst first half shooting performances I’ve ever witnessed.  The C’s shot 23% and went into halftime facing a 17-point deficit.

Coming back in the second half after starting out slow has been a common theme for this team all season, and this game was no different.  It was reminiscent of their regular season finale when they erased a 26-point Miami Heat lead and managed to pull out a win.

Unfortunately they came out on the losing side this time, but the good news is they were able to right the ship and prove in the second half that they have the ability to outplay Atlanta.  They outscored the Hawks 67-51 after the break and Brad Stevens’ halftime adjustment skills continued to rival those of Bill Belichick.

If the Celtics can just not shoot 23% for the first 24 minutes of the game then I think they should be fine, and I definitely don’t see that happening again.  I certainly wasn’t blown away by Atlanta’s defense as the C’s were able to create some great looks but just failed to convert.  Once that changed, so did the momentum.

Of course the loss of Avery Bradley isn’t going to help.  AB suffered a strained hamstring Saturday night and is likely to miss the rest of the series.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a huge loss.  Bradley is arguably the best on-ball defender in the NBA and has been the Celtics’ second best scorer this year behind Isaiah Thomas.  But that doesn’t mean he’s irreplaceable, and I think the C’s have the pieces to fill his important role in the lineup.

Granted, it’s going to have to be a group effort.  There isn’t another guy on this team who can do everything that AB does.  However, there are other great defenders and shooters who can collectively fill this sudden void.

Marcus Smart needs to be the best he can be at the defensive end.  I’m not expecting anything from him offensively, especially with his new hand injury, but if he can harass Jeff Teague and make his life a living hell then he’s doing his job.

Terry Rozier is the third best guard defender on the roster behind Bradley and Smart, and he can score a little too.  He’s about to be given the biggest opportunity of his young NBA career and his recent comments tell me he’s up for the challenge:

“It clicked in my mind, right from [Avery’s injury], that my opportunity is here. … Coach came up to me and said, ‘Just be ready.’”

The Celtics will also have to make up for the loss of Bradley’s shooting as well as Kelly Olynyk’s, who will likely be limited if he even sees the floor at all on Tuesday.  KO tweaked his shoulder on Saturday, the same one that caused him to miss a significant amount of time earlier this season.

This means it’s time for RJ Hunter to show what he’s made of.  RJ may be the best pure shooter on the entire Celtics’ roster and if he can rise to the occasion and knock down some jumpers it would be a huge help.

Another key will be the play of Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson.  There’s been a lot of talk about how the Hawks have the advantage down low and it could be a deciding factor in the series.  That appeared to be true in game one, but Amir and Sully didn’t play to their full potential.  As good as Al Horford and Paul Millsap are, the Celtics’ bigs are capable of holding their own in the paint against more talented opponents.  If they can just get a body on those guys and do their best to keep them off the boards, then they should be in good shape.

Game two goes down in Atlanta on Tuesday, we’ll see what happens.

 

Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP Photo via MassLive.com

 

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