Key Matchup 1: Jeff Green vs. Josh Smith.
Jeff Green will look to build off of his heroics last night, as he scored a game-winning layup with two seconds to go, propelling the Celtics to victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is starting in place of the injured Kevin Garnett and has played well in a similar role throughout the season, averaging a smidgen under twelve points per game with solid on-ball defense.
Josh Smith is also an extremely good defender. He is the youngest player to block 1,000 shots. Defense is his specialty, although he is a good scorer within 18 ft. of the basket.
Outcome: Jeff Green, currently the Celtics' best pure, athletic scoring option (sorry Paul Pierce) will continue to drive to the basket and put Smith in early foul trouble. He is a confident player, and will use that motivation in this game.
Key Matchup 2: Courtney Lee vs. injury
Speaking of defenders, Boston seems to have a lot of them. Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley might be the best defensive backcourt in the NBA, but when a bicycle only has one wheel, it tends to work less effectively.
Courtney Lee has missed the past three games with a sprained left ankle and is currently a game-time decision for tonight's matchup.
Who will win this pivotal Eastern Conference tilt?
Lee has already missed games against the New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies and last night against the Cavaliers. Atlanta has easily the strongest offensive backcourt of the four, with one of the league's best young players in Jeff Teague and a veteran slasher in Devin Harris. If Lee plays, those two will have difficult time scoring. But if Lee is out, and Jordan Crawford starts, driving to the basket will be a whole lot easier.
Outcome: Courtney Lee suits up and plays limited time.
Key Matchup 3: Hawks vs. TD Garden Crowd
Ever since Rajon Rondo went down with an injury, the Celtics have been seen as beatable. That hasn't been the case, as Coach Doc Rivers and his staff continue to put a winning product on the basketball court. That sort of performance in the face of adversity has riled up the fans. The atmosphere in The Garden will be electric this evening.
The Hawks sport an 18-19 road record, which is respectable, but not outstanding, especially compared to elite teams in the league. The Celtics, on the other hand, boast the third-best home record in the Eastern Conference at 24-11. In this case, the numbers don't lie.
Game outcome: The Celtics will prevail behind good perimeter defense, the scoring of Jeff Green and a playoff-like atmosphere in their nearly sold-out arena, allowing the Hawks to continue their recent slump.