Only one game on the docket tonight but it’s from probably the best series of the first round — can the Atlanta Hawks close out the Boston Celtics on the road? Atlanta is up 3-2, and here are three things to watch:
1) How well is Isaiah Thomas moving? Thomas tweaked his ankle during the ugliness that was Game 5 for Boston, and the Celtics need him for Game 6 if they are going to extend this series. He has always said he was going to play, the question is how well he can play — Boston needs near 100 percent Thomas.
He’s the one Celtic who can create his own shots and set up others. In Game 5 the Hawks did a good job trapping and swarming Thomas off every pick-and-roll, taking it out of his hands and daring anyone else to beat them. Nobody did. In Game 6 look for Brad Stevens to do something Terry Stotts started doing for Portland vs. a swarming L.A. Clippers defense on Damian Lillard — isolations. It’s a break from what the Celtics did during the season, but Thomas himself mentioned the idea after the last game. Why bring another defender up into the play? If Thomas’ ankle is healthy enough for him to blow by guys in isolation, the Celtics offense is more likely bounce back.
2) Can Atlanta knock down its jump shots? The Xs and Os of this series are more complex, but in a lot of ways it comes down to this: Boston is daring Atlanta players not named Kyle Korver to shoot jumpers and beat them. In their Game 5 blowout win, the Hawks shot nearly 50 percent and had 13 three pointers total from seven different players. When those shots fall, when there is offensive balance like that, they are going to win. Can they do that on the road under pressure?
3) Can these Celtics summon the Garden magic? Closeout games are hard. Closeout games on the road are harder. But there is something about the Garden — the crowds, the ghosts, whatever it is this will be a tough one for the Hawks to win. That said, they have the right tools — including the Mike Scott/Paul Millsap lineups up front that have been very successful this series. Expect Scott to be the first big off the bench, subbing out Al Horford, again in this game. But can Boston get a huge game from Marcus Smart and Evan Turner, can Amir Johnson own the paint for a night, can Jae Crowder get back to doing his thing.
Historically, a series where the home team wins the first five games (as has happened in this series) sees the road team win Game 6 57 percent of the time. Boston needs everything in its bag of tricks to force a Game 7.