Game Preview: Hawks at Celtics

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BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (33-27) will put a four-game winning streak on the line when they host the Atlanta Hawks (34-26) at 8 p.m. tonight in TD Garden. In addition to tonight's clash, these two teams will meet again on Friday, March 29.

The two Friday night affairs will be critical to these teams’ playoff pushes. The seventh-seeded Celtics and fifth-seeded Hawks are separated by just one game in the Eastern Conference standings. Both teams are vying for the fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The final six weeks of the regular season should be entertaining for the fans in Boston and Atlanta. Only 4.5 games separate the second seed from the seventh seed, so this is gearing up to be one of the most exciting playoff pushes we’ve seen in recent memory.

Speaking of recent memory, we should touch on the last time these two teams met. That contest was played on Jan. 25 in Atlanta and it wound up being a double-overtime thriller.

Boston will remember that game as if it happened yesterday, for two particular reasons.

First of all, the Celtics led by 19 points heading into halftime of that game and at one point led by as many as 27 points in the game. However, Boston fell asleep in the third quarter, which allowed the Hawks to crawl back into contention and eventually take the win in double overtime.

Hibbert, KG

Kevin Garnett will play a critical role in Boston's ability to keep Atlanta off the glass.
Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images

The defeat was tough to handle but Boston’s second loss of the night was devastating. Rajon Rondo played the entirety of the two overtime sessions but it was learned less than 48 hours later that he had torn his right ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season.

Boston did not enjoy either of those losses but it has since bounced back with a vengeance. The C’s have gone 13-4 since that last game against the Hawks and have surged into contention for a top-four seed in the East.

The Celtics have defied all odds since falling to the Hawks and losing Rondo for the season. Likewise, the Hawks have shown that they can defy all odds by overcoming a 27-point deficit to the C’s back in January.

The odds will be in Boston's favor tonight. The game is in TD Garden, where the C's own a 21-9 record this season, and they will tip off the contest riding a four-game winning streak. For the sake of their playoff push, the Celtics hope those odds remain true to form throughout the night.

Contain Korver

If you happened to watch the meeting between these two teams in late January, you just so happened to watch one of the greatest shooting performances an opposing player has had against Boston in a long time. Kyle Korver scored a game-high 27 points in the contest and 24 of those points were scored in the second half. All 24 of those second-half points arrived via the 3-point line, where Korver shot 8-of-10 overall in the third and fourth quarters.

Boston must do a much better job of keeping Korver in check tonight. He is one of the top shooters in the game and, as he showed on Jan. 25, he can shoot a team to victory all by himself.

Korver can also shoot his team out of a game if the opposing defense hounds him well enough. That will surely be one of Boston’s goals as it heads into this contest.

Facing the Hawks Without Rondo

Tonight’s game will be the first time this season in which Boston faces off against Atlanta without the services of Rondo. That could be an issue, because the Hawks’ starting backcourt, particularly Jeff Teague, is very dangerous.

Teague is coming off of a 27-point, 11-assist performance Wednesday night against the 76ers. He totaled 23 points, four rebounds and seven assists against Rondo and the Celtics on Jan. 25. Teague is one of the quickest guards in the league, with the ability to use that speed to score or help others score.

With Rondo out of the fold, Boston is likely to toss Avery Bradley on Teague tonight and put Courtney Lee on Devin Harris. We all know that Bradley can shut an opponent down on any given night. Doing so tonight would put the Celtics in prime position to extend this winning streak.

Be Physical… Again

The Celtics are coming off of a very physical win over the Pacers Wednesday night in Indiana. They hung tough with an Indiana squad that possesses one of the biggest frontlines in the game, as they finished with 47 rebounds to Indiana’s 49.

Interestingly enough, that was Boston’s second consecutive game with at least 47 rebounds. That’s an impressive accomplishment for a team that ranks 28th in the league in rebounding with an average of 40.2 per game. The C’s have clearly stepped it up in the physicality department of late and it’s no surprise that it has resulted in wins.

They must continue that trend tonight against the Hawks. Al Horford and Josh Smith each grabbed at least 13 rebounds on Jan. 25 against Boston. That won’t happen if the C’s continue their recent ways.