It can happen. For one game, the Boston Celtics can beat the Atlanta Hawks while Rajon Rondo sits at the hotel, suspended for bumping an official. It would Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would need to bounce back with huge games, it would mean the Celtics bench would have to step up. But it could happen.
Or, it could go the other way — Boston could become disorganized on the offensive end, Boston could watch Joe Johnson get hot from three and knock down shots while Jeff Teague again controls the flow. Boston could well be down two games after Tuesday night.
How Boston plays without Rondo, and how the Hawks attack with him gone, is what will determine the outcome of Game 2. The Hawks already lead the series 1-0.
Boston is used to playing without Rondo, they did it for 13 games this season. They are not as good without him, not over the long haul. But the playoffs are a series of one-game acts in a much longer play, and for one night Boston can win and even this series.
For the Hawks, the way they won Game 1 did not seem sustainable — Josh Smith jacked up 14 jump shots longer than 16 feet from the rim and took just five shots inside the restricted area. Joe Johnson was 0-9 from three. You can say it’s good they won despite those things, but if Smith jacking up jumpers is the rule and not the exception it will come back to bite Atlanta. In Game 1 those missed shots were balanced out by Jeff Teague’s good play and 15 points, plus a quality night from Jason Collins. Yes, he played well, particularly on post defense against Garnett. If the Smith and Johnson keep shooting and missing from distance (in Smith’s case, just shooting from there) Atlanta will pay a price.
Teague needs to have another big game, Smith needs to get in the paint and Johnson needs to shoot better. Which will not be easy against a good Celtics defense, but the Hawks have a better game in them.
Boston needs Pierce to simply shoot better. He had 12 points on 19 shots and was 2-of-14 from beyond 16 feet — Josh Smith was a better jump shooter in Game 1. If that happens again Boston will lose.
Boston will start Avery Bradley at the point and Mickael Pietrus at the two. Rivers doesn’t really have a choice with those moves, but it’s the kind of thing that after the game could look brilliant or foolish.
Bradley and Pierce need to attack Jason Collins on the pick-and-roll — that was very successful for the Celtics in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and Boston needs to do more of it. Rondo is by far their best pick-and-roll ball handler, but somebody else needs to step up for them.
The Hawks need this game — go to Boston tied 1-1 with Rondo returning and it will be bleak for the Hawks. The need to be up 2-0. The veteran Celtics know if they can pull this one out they will have snatched home court and momentum. Lose and the Celtics are not dead but they have to win 4 out of 5.
It’s big for both teams. And without Rondo it is unpredictable.