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Game 6 – Hawks at Celtics
By Brian Edwards

Atlanta will be looking for the kill shot Thursday night when it travels to TD Arena to take on Boston in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. The winner of this best-of-seven set will advance to face Cleveland in the East semifinals. If necessary, Game 7 would be at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Mike Budenholzer’s team hopes it’ll be prepping for the Cavaliers at that point. If the Hawks play like they did in the last 2.5 quarters of Tuesday’s Game 5, they’ll be doing just that.

Atlanta (51-36 straight up, 44-42-1 against the spread) took a 3-2 series advantage by virtue of a 110-83 win as a 7.5-point home favorite. The 193 combined points slithered ‘under’ the 198-point total.

When Boston led Atlanta 29-19 midway through the second quarter, you could hear a pin drop at Philips unless there were boo-birds in the air after another fruitless offensive possession from the Hawks, who were an abysmal 6-of-34 from the field to start the game.

However, when Paul Millsap scored on a bucket in the lane, it ignited his team to hit 10 consecutive shots, including three consecutive 3-pointers from Kent Bazemore in a span of just 87 seconds. By the time halftime arrived, Budenholzer’s bunch had a 45-37 advantage to hook up Atlanta first-half supporters (-4.5) with a winning wager.

The Celtics had led 20-15 at the end of the opening stanza, cashing first-quarter wagers as 2.5-point underdogs. With the eight-point lead at intermission, most books made the Hawks one-point ‘chalk’ for second-half bets. (Boston +9 adjusted)

Atlanta would cover that easily as it put the game on ice quickly in the third quarter. Boston briefly trimmed the deficit to five at 53-48, but then the Hawks got treys from Kyle Korver, Dennis Schroder, Mike Scott and Millsap to go ahead by 22 points. It would only get uglier from there.

Scott was the key for the Hawks. When they couldn’t buy a bucket in the second quarter, he scored five straight points and then his teammates loosened up. Scott scored a team-high 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field. The University of Virginia product grabbed five rebounds and buried 2-of-3 launches from downtown in 21 minutes of playing time.

Bazemore and Teague scored 16 points apiece. Korver, who has always been an underrated defender, had five steals as Atlanta forced Boston to commit 20 turnovers. Korver finished with 13 points on 3-of-6 shooting from long distance. Millsap contributed 10 points, eight rebounds, six assists, one steal and one blocked shot.

Al Horford was terrific in the first two games of the series, averaging 20.5 points per game, but he’s been kept out of double figures in three consecutive contests. Horford missed his first eight shots in Game 5, going 2-for-11 from the field for the night. But the two-time national-title winner at the University of Florida always finds ways to help his team, and that was the case again Tuesday when he produced eight rebounds and four assists compared to just one turner despite being held to merely six points.

Thomas, who entered Game 5 as the NBA’s highest scorer in the playoffs to date, had 42 points in Game 3 and 28 in Game 4. He went scoreless in the first half Tuesday, however, and managed only seven points and one rebound while committing as many turnovers (three) as he had assists (three).

With the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter, Brad Stevens sent a substitute in for his All-Star guard. But before the next dead ball, Thomas turned his ankle. He gave an intentional foul at the other end and immediately jogged, albeit gingerly, to the locker room. Nevertheless, Stevens downplayed the injury and Thomas is listed as ‘probable’ for Thursday’s Game 6.

Evan Turner had a team-best 15 points in the losing effort. Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger were also in double figures with 10 points apiece.

Boston (50-37 SU, 45-41-1 ATS) has won 30 of 43 home games outright this season while posting a solid 25-17-1 ATS mark.

Atlanta is 21-22 SU in its road games with a 20-22-1 spread record. The Hawks have failed to cover the number in six straight road contests. They are 1-3 both SU and ATS in four games at Boston this season. Furthermore, since winning Game 5 at the old Boston Garden in 1988, Atlanta has lost eight consecutive postseason games at Boston.

The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas opened Atlanta as a one-point favorite for Game 6, while the total was sent out at 196.5 points. As of late Wednesday afternoon, the Westgate had the Hawks favored by two points with a total of 197, which is the lowest of the series to date. Atlanta is a one-half point ‘chalk’ for first-half wagers.

Chris David had this take on the side: “After the blowout loss in Game 5, the Celtics opened as one-point home underdogs and the early action has leaned to Atlanta. I’m not surprised by the move and it should be noted that the oddsmakers have been pretty good with their ratings on Boston this season. The club has been listed as home ‘dogs six times and they went 2-4 in those games but to be fair, those losses came against the four best teams in Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland and Oklahoma City. It should be noted that both of the victories came against the Hawks.”

The ‘over’ went 3-1 in the four regular-season meetings between these clubs during the regular season, but the ‘under’ has cashed at a 4-1 clip in this postseason series. The combined score totals have been (in order) 203, 161, 214, 199 (despite going to OT) and 193.

The ‘under’ is 47-40 overall for the Celtics this year, 22-21 in their home outings.

The ‘under’ is 48-39 overall for the Hawks, 23-20 in their road assignments. They have seen the ‘under’ cash in six of their last seven games and eight of their last 10 (regardless of the venue).

David was taken by surprise when he saw the low total. He explained, “Even though the ‘under’ has gone 4-1 in the first five games of this series, I believe the oddsmakers made a mistake with the opener of 197 for Game 6 and the low number could have you leaning to the ‘over’ just based on season trends for Boston. This will be the eighth total listed under 200 points for Boston and the ‘over’ has gone 6-1 in the first seven games with the lone ‘under’ taking place in Game 5 of this series, which actually had a shot but the Celtics couldn’t buy a shot.

“Boston has posted 111 and 104 in the two games at home in this series, plus it has shown the ability to bounce back offensively after poor efforts. The team has been held under 90 points four times this season and they’ve posted 98, 111, 116 and 111 in the following games. I’m going to ride that trend again on Thursday and play Boston’s team total ‘over’ (97 ½) in Game 6 and I believe Atlanta will do its part as well, making me play the game ‘over’ too.”

Thursday’s tip in Beantown is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. Eastern on TNT.