Our beloved Celtics close out 2013 hosting the limping Atlanta Hawks in today’s clash. The Hawks will be playing their third game without star big man Al Horford. Horford, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, will be undergoing season-ending knee surgery. Fellow forward Paul Millsap played well in their first Horford-less game, tallying 33 points in an overtime win over Charlotte. Millsap struggled in their last game, a loss to Orlando, but will look to continue the success he had against Boston last time these teams met. The player that will look to give Boston the most problems will be guard Jeff Teague. In his last four games, Teague has averaged over 25 points per game while averaging 9.3 assists per game and shooting over 50%. The Celtics will need pitbull defender Avery Bradley to play his usual stingy perimeter defense to slow down the Atlanta guard.
Boston has struggled mightily holding onto their leads in recent games. In their losses to Washington and Detroit, Boston had leads of 18 and 21 points. Even in their most recent game, against Cleveland, Boston blew nearly all of its 22 point lead before eking out a three point win. Big man Jared Sullinger struggled mightily against Cleveland, missing 10 of his 14 shots and being limited to just three rebounds. The Celtics will need big production from Sully today to match Millsap. Another game of 19 points from Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford would be extremely helpful, but the biggest key for the C’s will be continued contribution from Kris Humphries. Humph has been the best player off the bench for the Celtics and has played extremely well of late, shooting over 66% and averaging nearly 9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in under 19 minutes per game over the last five contests. The Hawks rank 23rd in the league in rebounds per game, so a big game from the big man off the bench would be crucial in exploiting Atlanta’s weaknesses.
The Hawks, who are first in the league in assists per game, will look to continue their offensive success. But Brad Stevens’ 5th ranked defense will be up to the task. I predict the Celtics will pull out this win thanks to big contributions from Humphries off the bench and the returned success from Jared Sullinger against a defensively weak Paul Millsap. Check in after the game for a recap and stay tuned during the game for live tweets @HoudiniCeltics.