National Basketball Association

Celtics look to continue dominance over Hawks in Young’s return

HAWKS (7-27) AT CELTICS (23-8)
7 p.m. ET; NBCSB, FSSE

The Celtics may be down a star point guard, while the Hawks expect to get theirs back as Boston hosts Atlanta on Friday.

Kemba Walker has been ruled questionable for the contest by Boston after missing practice Thursday with flu-like symptoms. He’ll be a game-time decision for the Celtics, who enter having won six of their last seven games to end 2019.

The Hawks, meanwhile, plan on having Trae Young available Friday night after he missed two games with a sprained right ankle. Atlanta snapped a 10-game losing streak its last time out.

Early All-Star voting results were released Thursday, with Young leading the way in the backcourt among Eastern Conference guards at 443,412 votes. Walker is in third at 432,031, behind former Celtic Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets (432,481).

Young has been a force for Atlanta all season, placing fourth in the league at 28.5 points per game. His absence was felt when the team was held to a season-low 81 points by the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 28, but the Hawks rebounded with a 101-93 victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday to end their skid.

“I thought the guys were spirited tonight,” coach Lloyd Pierce said after the win. “They executed, and the execution came from communication with each other.”

Reserve guard Brandon Goodwin led the way with a career-high 21 points in the contest. Pierce told reporters Thursday that Goodwin will remain in the rotation once Young returns, though the lion’s share of the point guard duties will undoubtedly go to Young.

“I think the biggest thing is keeping everyone in their role, to where we’re not asking anyone to do more,” Pierce said.

The Celtics, meanwhile, can overcome the potential absence of Walker with the return of Jaylen Brown after Brown missed the team’s 109-92 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday with a sinus infection. Brown, averaging 20.6 points per game, went through a full practice Thursday and is probable.

Against the Hornets, Gordon Hayward had his best game since his return from hand surgery with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but Enes Kanter stole the show off the bench with 13 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high six blocks.

“I didn’t realize it was six blocks,” Hayward said. “That’s pretty big time. He’s been telling people he’s a stop sign. I hope that he’s going to continue to be a stop sign for us. We need him on that end.”

Walker leads Boston at 22.5 points per game. He has only missed one contest this season, Nov. 25 with a neck sprain.

The Celtics have dominated the Hawks of late, winning seven of their last eight meetings. The teams will meet again at Atlanta on Feb. 3 and in Boston on Feb. 7.

After Friday, the Celtics will embark on a stretch of three of four on the road beginning Saturday against the Bulls. The Hawks will return to Atlanta for a three-game homestand starting Saturday against the Indiana Pacers.

–Field Level Media

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