David Butler II/US Presswire
Brandon Bass delivers a two-handed jam against the Atlanta Hawks in Boston.The Boston Celtics get another chance to close out the Atlanta Hawks when the series returns to TD Garden for Game 6 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on Thursday evening (8 p.m., TNT). To preview the matchup, we play a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne:
1. With Game 6 in Boston, is it a must-win for the Celtics?
Payne: It's not a must-win, only because Game 7s and other elimination games can only garner that title. But it's certainly a very important game, because, again, if the Hawks win tonight, not only will they have home-court advantage for Game 7, but they'll clearly have all the momentum in this series. Because it's not technically a must-win for Boston, it can't be labeled as such, but it's pretty much as close as you can get to one. The Celtics will be doing themselves a massive favor by ending the series tonight and not putting themselves through another unnecessary Game 7.
Forsberg: Both the Celtics and Hawks are too wildly inconsistent for this game to be a must-win. The Celtics have had a way of making things as difficult as possible on themselves, so losing Games 5 and 6, then prevailing in Game 7 on the road would just follow the script of this raise-your-blood-pressure season (and, conversely, a couple Hawks observers have joked that Atlanta prolonging the series only to lose a decisive game on home turf would be very Hawk-like). That being said, no team wants to play a do-or-die game on the road, especially in a situation in which its dinged up and the opposing team would have momentum from two consecutive wins. So Boston can certainly make things far easier on itself if it takes advantage of having the home crowd behind it on Thursday night.
2. What will you be focused on in Game 6?
Payne: I think it has to be Rajon Rondo's night tonight. He was arguably the biggest part of Boston's surge late in the third quarter of Game 5 that gave them a shot at winning in the final frame, and he still stands as one of the biggest matchup advantages Boston has in this series. The Celtics need triple-double Rondo to come out tonight and control the tempo and pace and dominate it from a variety of areas. Setting up his teammates is never an issue for Rondo, but he also needs to make sure he looks for his own shot on a consistent basis tonight.
Forsberg: Yes, it's Rondo for certain. Sure, you can focus on Paul Pierce's ailing knee or whether Kevin Garnett's shot is falling early on, but Rondo nearly stole Game 5 by himself and tonight has complete takeover potential. Rondo sat at his locker for an extraordinarily long time following the Game 5 loss in Atlanta, clearly despondent over not converting on the final possession with a chance to win the game. We know that Rondo doesn't like losing -- his Game 1 outburst a prime example of that -- and I think the lingering frustration will have him locked in from start to finish in Game 6. Rondo doesn't exactly have anything to atone for, though he was seemingly at half-speed for much of the first three quarters in Game 5, but it's clear that Boston is unstoppable at times when he's fully engaged. If he plays in Game 6 like he did for the final 15 minutes of Game 5, then Boston should end this series.