Atlanta Hawks (-2, 197 o/u) at Boston Celtics
Facing elimination for the first time this season, the Boston Celtics (48-34, 28-13 Home) will try to force a decisive Game 7 tonight when they face the Atlanta Hawks (48-34, 21-20 Away) at TD Garden in Boston (8:00 PM Eastern).
In reality, Boston is lucky to still be alive. They fell behind 2-0 early and have been outplayed for lion’s share of the series – especially once Avery Bradley was hurt late in Game 1 – but a couple home wins in Games 3 and 4 kept their playoff juices flowing.
The Celts looked like a tired team on Tuesday as the series shifted back to Atlanta, running out of gas in a 110-86 beatdown.
After Paul Milsap put up 45 points for the Hawks in their Game 4 loss, Atlanta got back to its usual team dynamic in Game 5, and looked much better as a result. Five Hawks scored in double-figures, led by reserve Mike Scott with just 17. Atlanta’s bench almost outscored the starters, accounting for 49 of the team’s 110 points.
Coach Mike Budenholzer will be looking for the starters to come out strong tonight in order to take away Boston’s raucous home-court advantage.
“We just have to have this same type of mentality, same type of effort and take it on the road,” Budenholzer told the Associated Press. “Can we play with the same poise and the same effort? The crowd was great here tonight. I think the guys have a comfort level, and we just need to take that on the road. … In the playoffs, it’s important to put a crowd away and play well.”
If Boston is going to survive to see a Game 7, they’ll need more from leading scorer Isaiah Thomas. The diminutive guard had 28 points in Game 4, but went just 3-of-12 from the field on Tuesday for a measly seven points. The Celtics are 2-1 when Thomas hits the 20-point plateau and now 0-2 when he doesn’t.
Though Boston is trailing 3-2 in the series, they’ve covered three of the five games (twice at home). Sitting at +2 at the moment, this will be the second time in the series that they’re home ‘dogs. It’s tempting to take the Celtics after seeing Games 3 and 4, but there are trends that swing the other way as well. The team is just 2-6-1 ATS in its last nine games as a home underdog and 3-10 ATS in their last 13, overall, as an underdog.
With Bradley still on the shelf (hamstring), and now Thomas laboring from a mild ankle sprain, I don’t expect Boston to look much more lively tonight than in Game 6, even in front of their home crowd.
Pick: Hawks (-2).
(Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]. Photo has been cropped.)