Celtics Step Their Game Up Against Atlanta

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Celtics 118, Hawks 107

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ave the Celtics found a center? As Shavlik Randolph, a 6-foot-10-inch big man who was playing in China before Jared Sullinger’s injury forced the C’s to bring in some help, dominated the Hawks (40-33) front line for periods of Friday night’s win, Mike Gorman had to ask that question. In the midst of his usual play-by-play duties, Gorman and his partner (the affable Tommy Heinsohn) couldn’t help but gush over the effort that this 5th year pro displayed on the boards. In only 21 minutes, Randolph scored nine points to go along with 13 rebounds. Seven of those boards came on the offensive end, and that marks the highest total for any Celtic this season.

“I know when I go out there it’s going to be for short stretches, you know, short bursts, and there’s no excuse for me not to give a 100 percent out there” Randolph told WEEI after the game, “That’s my job, to go manhunt every rebound.” Boston has missed that type of effort since Sullinger went down for the year with a back injury, and if Danny Ainge was at all skeptical about the decision to sign Randolph to a multi-year deal last Thursday, this performance had to alleviate any concerns.

This is a team that struggles to control the defensive boards, while making essentially no attempts to control offensive rebounds. In their narrow win over Cleveland on Wednesday, the C’s only had two offensive boards, which is an insanely low number even if the team wasn’t focusing on attacking the glass for second chances. They need tough-minded bigs like Randolph to control the paint, and once Kevin Garnett returns from his ankle injury, Randolph should provide some solid minutes as the backup center.

Without Garnett in the lineup, all the Celtics have had to step up. While Boston managed to snap their five-game losing streak with a narrow win in Cleveland on Wednesday night, this victory marked the end of a sluggish stretch of basketball out of this group.

Since their disappointing loss to Miami last Monday night, the C’s have been in a funk. They haven’t played with joy, haven’t really been aggressive on the offensive end, and while part of that has to do with their tendency to play poorly in road games (13-23 road record), it seemed that the team as a whole was rather dispirited. However, as the reserves start to get more comfortable with an increased role, and Brandon Bass and Jeff Green find their stride as the Celts primary options down low, the hangover from the Heat game has begun to wore off.

http://youtu.be/CGQ2zbSHhWg?t=6s

Boston (38-34) scored a season-high 118 points, while shooting 54 percent from the field in a game that they desperately needed to remain in good position for the playoffs. Thanks to a triple-double from Paul Pierce, a 27-point performance by Jeff Green, and five clutch three-pointers from Jason Terry, they were able to gain a game on Atlanta. With only ten games remaining on the Celtics regular season schedule, they are now 1.5 games behind the Hawks for the sixth seed in the East, and are starting to gel at the right time.

Jason Terry told CSN’s Greg Dickerson how this team intends to perform down the stretch. In a post-game interview, Terry drew the sideline reporter’s attention to a bracelet on his wrist that reads: ‘Step your game up,’ which is apparently the Celtics new mantra for this year’s playoff run. If veterans like Terry and Pierce continue to step their game up, along with young additions such as Randolph, Jordan Crawford, and Terrence Williams, then there is a chance that the C’s can make some noise in the postseason this year.

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Nate Weitzer

I've always loved the Celtics. Growing up with only a whiff of the glory days of Bird, Parish, and McHale, I was wistful yet invested in the awful teams of the 17-year period (1991-2007) where the Celtics never really competed. When they won the finals in '08 I was ecstatic, my favorite memory was slapping a bar table so hard I spilled a pitcher after Pierce's four-point-play in Game 1.