Boston at Atlanta
Time: 7 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: BOS -1.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Boston Celtics suffered a loss last night in one of its most important games of the 2016-17 season, falling 114-91 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It caused Boston to fall a full game behind Cleveland in the chase for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but the C’s will look to get back on track with a victory on the road tonight over the Atlanta Hawks. Boston enters as 1.5-point favorites in the game, which will be the first half of a TNT Thursday night double header.
Boston suffered an especially poor second quarter in last night’s defeat, losing its one point lead and trailing by 17 at the half. The third quarter was not any kinder, as the Cavaliers finished the quarter ahead by 26, firmly in control of the game. Despite a good game by Isaiah Thomas, who scored 26 points, LeBron James had the full skill set on display in this one. James had 36 points, six assists and 10 rebounds while posting an incredible +32 for his 39 minutes of court time.
All five Cavs starters finished in double-figures, and Kyrie Irving had 19 points on 7 of 18 shooting. Boston was out-rebounded by 13 boards in this game, and though the Celtics shot 18 of 29 (62 percent) from three-point range, the Celtics shot poorly overall in going just 40.7 percent from the floor in the game. Thomas was 9 of 19, but just 1 of 8 from distance. The Celtics will need a much stronger effort on their homecourt to present much of a challenge to the Cavaliers should these two top seeds eventually collide in the 2017 playoffs.
Boston has just four games remaining on its schedule, and with two of those four teams not in the playoff chase, it could be a 4-0 close to the season for the Celtics. After tonight’s affair, Boston will take on Charlotte on the road, before closing the season with a homestand against the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks. Boston compiled an 11-5 record in March and is 1-1 thus far in April, putting a strong close to a season that has gone about as expected for the men in green.
Al Horford has been a bit of a disappointment, but Isaiah Thomas has certainly exceeded the Celtics expectations in becoming a legitimate No. 1 option and superstar. While the 5-foot-9 point guard poses his own defensive shortcomings, Boston defends well as a team and has been able to augment the mismatches caused by Thomas with a strong frontcourt. Even though Horford has not provided very good rim protection, the C’s have a host of strong individual defenders to cover Thomas’ short stature. Ranging from Jaylen Brown off the bench to Jae Crowder in the starting lineup, the Celtics have the defensive cogs to make it work with such a diminutive floor general.
The Atlanta Hawks snapped a seven-game losing streak with wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns, but have since dropped two straight again, to poor opponents: The Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls. Atlanta is falling apart at the worst possible time, and with just four games on its schedule after tonight, it had better right the ship now before it is too late. The Hawks have been pleased with the emergence of Tim Hardaway Jr in a season with few other bright spots. Hardaway has averaged 14 points and two assists per game, with a style of play almost nothing like his 6-foot-0 father.
Hardaway is a big-bodied, strong guard who can get to the basket and finish hard. Coupling that with an underrated Kent Bazemore gives the Hawks an effective rotation on the wings, even if jettisoning Kyle Korver seemed foolish and short-sighted. The Hawks have not been able to get much more out of Dwight Howard than the Houston Rockets did, surprisingly, as the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year is averaging 14.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game while blocking a disappointing 1.27 shots per game.
Howard is a shadow himself. While the Hawks do have effective options at the 1 and 4, respectively, in Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroder, Atlanta is in a strange place as a team that is reasonably competitive but far too inconsistent to be much of a threat to the top teams in the East, like tonight’s opponent.