There will be one matchup to watch in Friday night’s Game 3 of the first round series between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks. This isn’t Paul Pierce versus Joe Johnson or who will have the upper hand in the point guard showdown of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Teague.
The battle will be Brandon Bass against either Josh Smith or Marvin Williams, depending on whether Smith will be able to get on the parquet. Smith suffered a knee injury at the 4:20 mark in the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ 87-80 victory over the Hawks. There are differing reports on the diagnosis of his injury, but he is questionable for the Game 3 encounter that will swing the pendulum of the series.
Bass, other than a few jumpers in the first half of Game 2, has yet to check himself into the first two games in Atlanta. Bass’s stat lines are similar after shooting 6-14 from the field with a combined 11 rebounds in both games. He did not even attempt a shot in the first half of Game 1. Rondo’s absence from suspension did not help Bass in the Celtics’ win to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Hawks because Bass cannot create his own shot. This is one of the biggest reasons Bass was not on the court in the final frame during Game 2 when Doc Rivers went with a small lineup of Kevin Garnett, Pierce, Mickael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels, and Avery Bradley. Also, Rivers knew he needed the team to get consistent stops on the defensive end. Daniels and Pietrus could lock down on Johnson while Pierce could be the playmaker on the offensive side.
Another key element to watch tomorrow night is if Rondo can penetrate to the basket and take an extra defender with him, and if this will successfully leave Bass open for a 10-foot look at the basket. If Bass is able to knock down these attempts from outside the paint, the floor will open for Garnett.
The question of whether Smith plays also depends on how explosive he can be with his knee ailment. When he could not finish the game, the Hawks defense was completely different. Smith is one of the top defenders in the league and he makes up for a lot of mistakes from Joe Johnson. If Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford are unable to come back, which is more likely to happen, then Williams will be inserted into the starting lineup and he will have to cover Bass. Williams has size and length, but he has never been considered a great defender.
On the defensive end, the Hawks without Smith will be easier to defend in the frontcourt. Williams is more of a perimeter player than Smith. Williams shot 39% from beyond the arc, but it will be intriguing if the Hawks use him in a different way at the four position because Williams has never been a player who will play along the paint.
While this matchup is predicated on the health of Smith, the Celtics could use Bass, but he needs to regain his confidence.
The Hawks will want to quicken the pace in this game, but if Smith is unable to play or if he is limited by his knee, this will mean the Hawks will have to play a game of half court, which fits the Celtics defensive plan well.
Rondo could be motivated to display his skills and provide help for his teammates who picked him up on Tuesday night. Since Pierce played 44 minutes in the last game, he may not be able to duplicate his Game 2 performance. The 1-2 punch of Rondo and Bass could provide the Celtics with a strong push against the reeling Hawks.