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What To Watch For: Celtics-Hawks Game 6

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics have taken just about every challenge presented to them this season head-on, and more times than not, have came out on top.

They'll have to repeat such magic with their biggest challenge yet ahead of them Thursday night, with their season on the line in Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Celtics had a golden opportunity to take a stranglehold on the series Tuesday night in Atlanta, jumping out to a 29-19 lead in the second quarter of Game 5. The Hawks looked out of it, with just six made shots halfway through the second quarter, but Boston didn't take advantage. Before they knew it Atlanta had hit 11 straight shots during a 28-8 run, and the rout that could have been was flipped in the Hawks' favor.

Now the Celtics have their backs against the wall, facing a must-win if they want to see a decisive Game 7 on Saturday night.

Here's what we'll be watching for when the Celtics take the TD Garden floor

Freeing Isaiah

There doesn't seem to be too much concern over Isaiah Thomas' sprained ankle. What is concerning is getting the little man open.

While many will say Thomas was invisible in Game 5, the Hawks certainly saw plenty of him. They double and triple teamed him throughout his 29 minutes on the floor, never allowing him to get to his spots or take open looks. Any time he ran around a pick, there was nowhere for him to roll. Such aggressive defensive focus from the Hawks held Thomas to a season-low seven points on 3-of-12 shooting, with Boston's leading scorer this season held scoreless in the first half.

Thomas said he hasn't seen that kind of attention since high school, but he can probably expect just as much come Game 6. It's up to Brad Stevens to find ways to get Thomas open looks, or at least enough space to operate and attack the basket. After Tuesday's loss, the Celtics are 13-13 this season when Thomas doesn't score at least 20 points. Four of those losses have been to Atlanta, and if Thomas can't do what he does best Thursday night, Boston will likely suffer a fifth.

Supporting Isaiah

It would help if someone else would step up and do some scoring other than Thomas. With most of Atlanta's focus on the 5-9 guard, several Celtics had open looks in the second quarter but couldn't find the bottom of the net.

Thomas saw all that attention on him as an insult to his teammates, and said as much after the loss. What he really was doing was telling the rest of the Boston roster to get their shot straight.

"Their game plan was to let the other guys beat us. It should be a sign of disrespect to my teammates for them to put two on the ball every time I have it," he said Tuesday night. "Other guys have to step up and make plays. That's what it comes down to."

Evan Turner led the way Tuesday night with 15 points, but finished a minus-29 in his 31 minutes on the floor and was held to just two assists (he had seven and six helpers, respectively, in Boston's Game 3 and 4 wins). Marcus Smart had 10 points but hit just two of his seven shots from the floor, going 2-of-5 from downtown. Jae Crowder also had 10 points, but hit just two of his six shots from beyond the arc, missing an open look and a layup during Atlanta's run in the second quarter.

The rest of Brad Stevens' bunch has to be better in Game 6 if they want a shot at a Game 7.

Can Smart replicate his 20-point outburst in Game 4? Or can Jonas Jerebko put up another double-double like he did in Games 3 and 4? Will Kelly Olynyk do anything good offensively?

It doesn't matter who it is, just as long as someone other than Isaiah gets it going on the offensive end.

Fast Start

This is the broken record portion of What To Watch For, but an uphill battle is not the kind of fight the Celtics want to get into when facing elimination. They held a first quarter lead on Tuesday, but they scored only 20 points in the opening frame.

The C's are shooting 33 percent in the first quarter for the series, but that number jumps to 47 percent in their two home games. On the road, they're hitting just 24 percent of their shots.

So yeah, if there is a Game 7, be prepared to see this again. You've been warned.

Delivering A Knockout Punch

The Celtics had a chance to build on their second-quarter lead on Tuesday night, but instead missed easy and open shots and let the Hawks run all over the place in transition. They let up, never delivering that knockout punch when the Hawks were ripe for the taking, and their 10-point lead turned into a 10-point deficit. It got out of hand when the Celtics basically gave up on the defensive end, which goes against everything about this Celtics team.

That shouldn't happen again in Game 6, not in front of their home crowd and with their season on the line. If the Celtics have a chance to run the Hawks out of the building, they need to seize it rather than let it slip away. If not, they'll be cleaning out their lockers before they know it.


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