Hawks, Celtics alone on playoff stage in close out game
After a frenzied start to the week that saw some of the NBA's top players sidelined by injuries, Thursday will mark the quietest night in the NBA playoffs so far, with only one game scheduled.
Meanwhile, the East's top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers — who certainly remember what it was like a year ago when they were bitten by postseason injuries — continue to play the waiting game following their first-round sweep of Detroit.
That downtime could come to an end depending on what happens Thursday in Boston during the Game 6 matchup between the Celtics and Hawks. Atlanta leads the series 3-2 and will have the first opportunity to close things out coming off a blowout win on Tuesday night.
The Hawks were outscored 29-19 in the first 18 minutes of the game, before finding their best offensive rhythm of the postseason to ignite a 70-33 run over the next 18 minutes to take control of the game.
Atlanta will now attempt to earn the first road win for either team in the series in what is expected to be a raucous TD Garden arena hoping to will the Celtics to a Game 7.
"Experience, I do think it helps," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Each time you get to go through playing on the road in the playoffs and all the things that go into that — no matter what city, what arena, what team you're talking about — I think you grow with each experience. Hopefully you learn and you're better prepared to do it."
Cleveland is staying mum for now when it comes to handicapping a matchup with either team.
For what it's worth the Cavs were 3-0 against the Hawks during the regular season, and 2-1 against the Celtics. But neither team rolled over for Eastern Conference's top seed. The Cavs lost a one-point game at home against Boston in February, and needed overtime earlier this month to win in Atlanta.
"We're just preparing," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. "The series isn't over so we don't know who we're playing so I don't want to give them two teams. Right now we're just working on what we can do to get better and working on our things right now."
HAWKS AT CELTICS, ATLANTA LEADS SERIES 3-2. 8 P.M., TNT
Boston All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas became the latest marquee player to visit the training room when he limped to the locker room with a mildly sprained left ankle in the closing minutes of his team's loss Tuesday night.
Luckily for the shamrock faithful, it was only a visit.
Coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday that all signs point toward Thomas being able to play Thursday. The coach said he'd gotten all positive updates on the All-Star guard's status since their return to Boston. Thomas didn't experience much swelling and was feeling good Wednesday.
He averaged 35 points in two victories at Boston that evened the series, but managed only seven points Tuesday as the Hawks sent a myriad of double teams his way. That's only expected to continue.
"I'll be ready no matter what," Thomas said. "I just tweaked it. I tweaked it in Game 4 as well in the fourth quarter. I just tweaked it again. It hurt right when it happened. I came back here and iced it. I'll be all right."
Stevens says it's still unlikely that Avery Bradley will be able to return this series after sitting out his fourth straight game with a strained right hamstring. He said Bradley did do some jogging recently, but experienced some soreness afterward.
It's not an ideal time for Boston to not be at its best.
Atlanta not only found its shooting touch in Game 6, but a small ball rotation — and impact player in reserve Mike Scott — that has given Boston all kinds of fits.
The Hawks were plus-26 points when Scott on the floor and played their best when Al Horford was out and with Scott and Millsap in the front court.
Scott thinks he knows how can duplicate his Game 5 output.
"Just play with a lot of energy, be aggressive. I don't think I was aggressive in Boston for those two games," he said. Just getting back to my game, not worrying about my shot, just doing the little things and having fun."
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