Ray Allen and the Celtics can pull even with the Hawks with a win on Wednesday night.It could be a first-round playoff preview when the Boston Celtics (33-24, 20-9 home) host the Atlanta Hawks (34-23, 15-15 away) on Wednesday evening at TD Garden (8 p.m., CSN). The two teams are currently pegged for the 4-5 matchup in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, but Wednesday's game will go a long way towards deciding whether that will materialize (and who will have home-court advantage if it does). To preview the matchup, we play a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne:
1. What will you be focused on when the Celtics host the Hawks?
Payne: I'll be looking to see how the Celtics, as a team, respond to their impressive win over Miami last night. Similar to what I said yesterday about the C's entering Miami on the heels of a convincing win over the 76ers, will the C's rest on their success from the previous night or continue pressing the gas pedal and knock off another of the Eastern Conference's upper-echelon teams? I'm becoming more and more convinced that Boston has crossed the "We're not taking nights off" hurdle, but tonight could be one of the final tests in my eyes. The Hawks always present some difficult matchups for Boston, so I'll be really interested to see what kind of performance we see tonight. If it turns into one of those grind-it-out games, so be it.
Forsberg: Kinda like Sunday against Philadelphia, I'm just not sure the matchups or stats really matter here. This is a "Who wants it more?" type of game given the potential playoff implications. Sure, the Celtics are coming off a back-to-back, but they didn't let that detour them against the 76ers (having played the night before in Indiana). Boston certainly expended a lot of energy in fending off Miami, but the chance to aid their playoff cause should be enough motivation tonight to muster up the proper intensity to play a well-rested Atlanta squad. It will be interesting to see if the offensive explosion carries over for Boston, or if it aims to reestablish the defensive intensity that was missing outside of key moments when Miami threatened to rally ahead in the fourth quarter. One thing here: This might be exactly the sort of night when either the young legs (Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass) or the bench (Big game for Ray Allen?) have to carry the Celtics as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce left a lot on the court in South Beach.
2. What's the biggest takeaway from Boston's win over Miami?
Payne: I think Tuesday's win just solidifies the Celtics as a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference now. I don't think the C's were ever afraid of the Heat, but two wins in such a short time span certainly gives them a shot of self-confidence. They know they can go toe-to-toe with Miami when LeBron James is dropping close to 40 points, they know Rajon Rondo can have a field day against the Heat, and they know Kevin Garnett still, at this juncture, seems to boast an advantage over Chris Bosh. I think it was the ultimate confidence booster, and it'll just continue to help this team grow together as the playoffs draw closer.
Forsberg: We all knew the Celtics could lean heavy on their defense in big games, but the fact that they went into South Beach, where the Heat boasted the league's best home record, and beat Miami in a track meet shows that these Celtics can still find different ways to win games. That's super encouraging because you have to be multidimensional to thrive in the postseason. Last night's win was the exact sort of game the Celtics might have fumbled away earlier in the year -- heck, they did something similar in Chicago less than a week ago. To find a way to win that game speaks volumes to the strides this team has made and is just another encouraging sign about their potential to make some noise in the playoffs. Is there any team in the East that wants to see these guys at this point?