Boston (8-2) have the opportunity to sweep their three-game road trip after cruising to a 104-88 victory at Orlando on Sunday night. Jaylen Brown scored 18 points to lead six Celtics players in double figures, and reserves Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier led a defensive effort that limited the Hawks to 36.3 percent shooting.
The Celtics are enjoying their longest winning streak since a 14-game run from November 22 to December 22, 2010, and their five-game road winning streak is their best outside Boston since closing the 2014/15 season with seven straight victories. Boston have held opponents to 90.6 points per game and 40.5 percent shooting on their road winning streak.
Atlanta (2-8) still have the worst record in the Eastern Conference, but the injury riddled Hawks snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 117-115 win at Cleveland on Sunday night. Dennis Schroder scored 28 points for the Hawks, who nearly squandered a 14-point lead in the final 7:30. Luke Babbitt, making his first start of the season, hit four 3-pointers and finished with 17 points in a career-high 42 minutes for the Hawks, who are trying to avoid their first 0-4 start at home in their 71-year franchise history.
Atlanta will be without starting forward Mike Muscala for a second straight game, and Malcolm Delaney is questionable after sitting out Sunday with an ankle injury.
Three keys to the game
Look for Celtics to use their depth - Though Marcus Morris is still on a minutes restriction after missing Boston's first eight games, his arrival has given the Celtics a full nine-man rotation that provides coach Brad Stevens a great deal of flexibility. Morris being in the starting five gives the Celtics an up-tempo offense without sacrificing much defense and moving Aron Baynes to the second unit strengthens that group defensively. With the Hawks lacking healthy bodies, look for a constant rotation of players from Stevens to wear down Atlanta.
Can Babbitt get going again? - Without throwing shade on LeBron James, one reason Babbitt scored 17 points was because James played loose on defense. The Celtics will not afford Babbitt such space given their defensive concepts and depth, so he must hunt his shot to contribute behind Schroder. Babbitt has averaged 15.0 points while shooting 10 of 16 from 3-point range in his last three games, and that must continue if Atlanta are to post their first home win.
Smart thinking - Smart may be the most valuable 30.1 percent shooter in the league because of his defense and relentless energy. Yes, his shot selection lacks, and his 4-for-12 effort at Orlando was his second-best shooting performance of the season. But the fourth-year pro can guard anyone and his 4.3 rebounds per game rank 30th among all qualifying guards. Smart will get his chance to hound Schroder, and that will be a key factor if the Celtics are to win their ninth straight game.
Matchup to watch
Kyrie Irving vs Dennis Schroder - Irving is coming off a season low in scoring after being held to 11 points by Orlando on 4-of-13 shooting. The good news is that it hasn't affected other aspects of his game as he had five assists, and the Celtics have outscored opponents by nine points per game while he is on the court. Irving will be in the first wave of Celtics guards trying to wear out Schroder, who had 28 points and 9 assists against Cleveland and is averaging 22.0 points and 8.3 assists in his last five games while shooting 53.3 percent from the field.
Boston Celtics projected starting lineup
PG - Kyrie Irving | SG - Jaylen Brown | C - Marcus Morris | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford
Atlanta Hawks projected starting lineup
PG - Dennis Schroder | SG - Kent Bazemore | C - Dewayne Dedmon | SF - Luke Babbitt | PF - Taurean Prince
Schroder has averaged 16.0 points and 5.0 assists in five lifetime matchups with the Celtics and has a 3.57 assist-to-turnover ratio in those games. That ratio has slipped of late with Schroder taking on more ball-handling responsibilities to facilitate the Hawks' offense, and he has 27 assists and 17 turnovers in the last four games for a 1.59 ratio.
Irving has had his way with the Hawks of late, scoring 34.0 points per game on 52.9 percent shooting while making 18 of 36 from beyond the arc. He's also averaged 6.6 assists and 1.4 steals in those contests, posting two 40-point games and one 35-point effort.
Al Horford, who has hit all seven of his shots from 3-point range in the last two games and scored 34 points in those contests, scored just 20 on 8-of-32 shooting in three contests versus Atlanta in 2016/17 after playing with them for the first nine seasons of his career.
About the only trends going against the Celtics heading into this game is that they are 2-5 against the spread in their last seven games at Atlanta and 1-5 against the spread playing the second game on back-to-back nights. Yet Boston's status as eight-point favorites against a depleted and still-struggling Hawks team feels like a favorable play considering Atlanta are 2-6-1 in their last nine games against the spread and 1-6-1 in their last eight versus Eastern Conference rivals.
The over/under of 205.5 points seems generous considering Boston have not allowed an opponent to reach the century mark during their winning streak and the under has hit four times the last five occasions they've played in Atlanta and five times in the Celtics last seven games overall.
Boston's most recent loss came on the back end of playing on consecutive nights, but there's a difference between playing Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks versus Schroder and an Atlanta Hawks team whose scoring sources on a game-to-game basis beyond Taurean Prince are a mystery. The Celtics have the depth, especially in the backcourt, to make Schroder's life miserable with Irving and Smart, and now have the flexibility in the frontcourt to shut down Prince and Babbitt. This game feels straightforward for the Celtics, who should wrap up their road trip with a sweep and a ninth straight victory by beating the Hawks 104-90.
The game is being televised locally on Fox Sports Southeast and NBC Sports Boston. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm ET.
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