BOSTON -- The Hawks will either have a commanding 3-1 playoff series lead over the Boston Celtics by the end of tonight, or they'll be the source of a lot of grumbling in Atlanta.
My guess: The Hawks win tonight. They came back from a 19-point second half deficit and nearly won Game 3 Friday night, despite a number of unlikely developments (not the least of which was Isaiah Thomas scoring 42 points). But don't wager on my words because it's not officially Weekend Predictions season and therefore there is no money-back guarantee attached to my dart-throwing.
A have a few thoughts on tonight's game below. But first, time out for this commercial message. If you've missed some of the coverage of this series:
-- Here's a link to my column off the Game 3 loss.
Now about tonight:
• Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer and players say they are “moving on” from Thomas’ Game 3 slap, which the league Saturday deemed only a “Flagrant 1” and not a suspension-worthy act. But it’s clear that the memo that Budenholzer and other playoff coaches were asked to read to their players explicitly states that contact similar to what Thomas initiated would draw a “Flagrant 2” and a one-game penalty. When asked about the context of the memo, Budenholzer said: “It’s required by the league that we make our players aware of points of emphasis. I thought this year the information felt even more clear, more demonstrative than before. Maybe it was the same memo, I don’t know. But this year it seemed a little more black and white.”
• Defense against Thomas obviously must be better. Aside from the 42 points in Game 3, the Celtics' guard went to the free throw line 15 times (making 13). Budenholzer: "We can do a better job keeping him in front of us. Him getting 15 free throws, that goes a long ways toward adding up to a big scoring night. So we have to do a better job of keeping him off the free throw line, being more disciplined, whether it be the guy on him or help. And to stay more connected and make him make some different choices, make things more difficult on him and on passers. I don’t know if any of those are adjustments. We’ve just be better in each of those fundamental ways."
• The Hawks need a better effort from forward Paul Millsap tonight. His three-game point totals: 14, 4 and 8 . He's shooting only 4-for-21 in the last two games (0-for-6 from three-point range). Millsap said Boston is doing a good job of converging on him in the paint but acknowledges he has missed several shots at the rim and needs to be better. Budenholzer echoed that sentiment: “He’s got to play with more force. Be more aggressive, more decisive. Play with greater pace, into and out of screens. When he does that, he’s at his best.”
• Hawks center Al Horford, who had been listed as probable on the injury report with a groin strain, "felt a little discomfort late in the fourth quarter and he played through it," according to Budenholzer. But the coach expressed no concern about his health tonight.
• Kelly Olynyk, inactive for Games 2 and 3 because of a shoulder injury, is available tonight. Boston coach Brad Stevens said it's no guarantee Olynyk will play, but he also threw out the possibility of playing two of his "bigs," Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, together. So, yeah, he'd rather keep the Hawks guessing. And on that subject ...
• If the game gets physical again, Budenholzer should give some minutes to Kris Humphries, who hasn’t left the bench all series. When I asked Budenholzer about that possibility Saturday, he was non-committal: “We kind of discuss that a lot. Both he and Muskie (Mike Muscala) bring positive things. The physicality Kris brings, those are conversations we have in coaches’ meetings: ‘Can we, should we be using them?’”
That's it. The game column will be posted later. The cyber floor is now yours.
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