April 09, 2014

The Boston Celtics have a different look since their last visit to Atlanta, and so does their playoff series with the Hawks.

Let down by their usually dependable defense in the past two matchups, the Hawks may have to rely on home-court advantage to regain their lost momentum when the series shifts back to Philips Arena for Tuesday night's pivotal Game 5.

Done in by poor starts and inefficient shooting in losing the first two in Atlanta, Boston has been harder to defend since Brad Stevens inserted Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner into starting roles prior to Friday's Game 3. The Celtics have shot 44.3 percent since the switch after being held to 34.2 percent in Games 1 and 2.

Jerebko, who averaged 4.4 points and 15.1 minutes during the regular season, has emerged as the unlikely X-factor to Boston's resurgence. The stretch forward totaled 27 points and 22 rebounds in the two home wins, and his ability to create space has allowed Isaiah Thomas to be more productive in attacking the basket.

Thomas' career-high 42 points helped Boston turn the tide with a 111-103 win in Game 3, and the All-Star guard scored 18 of his 28 during the second half and overtime as the Celtics rallied for a 104-95 victory in Sunday's Game 4.

Down 62-46 early in the third quarter, Boston shot 56.4 percent the rest of the way to even the series. Jerebko contributed 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting after halftime and Marcus Smart had 13 of his 20 points following the break.

"I think one of our most redeeming qualities as a team is the guys are really – they're fighters," Stevens said. "They never give up. They play to the end, even in games where we didn't really have it they've done that."

Smart also neutralized Paul Millsap down the stretch, limiting the versatile forward to four points over the final 14 minutes and none in overtime after Stevens changed the defensive assignments in the fourth quarter.

Millsap amassed 26 first-half points and finished with a playoff career-high 45 along with 13 rebounds.

"They got us out of whack," Hawks guard Kyle Korver said. "They put Marcus Smart on Paul and we just tried to force it to him and at times took us out of what we had been doing. Give them credit. They played really well and made some plays down the stretch."

Stevens' next task will be improving his team's play in Atlanta, where the Celtics are 0-4 this season and have lost in six straight visits. They were a woeful 3 of 23 from the field during a seven-point first quarter in Game 2 and shot 26.9 percent to trail by 11 through one period of a 102-101 loss in Game 1.

"The most important thing for us, we got to start the games better, especially on the road," Thomas said. "If we start just halfway decent on the road we'll be alright."

Boston was able to overcome a 14-0 Hawks' run to begin the second half of Game 4.

For Mike Budenholzer, the goal will be finding consistent scoring to complement Millsap. Al Horford has 13 points over the last two games after scoring 41 in the two wins, Jeff Teague finished 4 of 18 in Game 4 and top bench options Dennis Schroder and Thabo Sefolosha were a combined 3 for 17.

"I just think we needed a little bit more with him, collectively from all of us, a little more to help Paul," Budenholzer said. "They responded to being down 2-0 and now we've got to go home and respond."

Stevens said he doesn't expect Avery Bradley to return Tuesday from his Game 1 hamstring injury.

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