Celtics

Celtics

There’s no need to hype up the importance of tonight’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks.

Tonight’s winner will have the inside track to the coveted No. 3 seed in the East which takes them off a crash course with defending Eastern Conference champ Cleveland until the Conference finals.

For the loser, they will most likely endure a tougher path towards the postseason with a No. 4 or No. 5 seed most likely.

That creates a tougher first-round matchup and if they’re fortunate enough to get out of the first round, in comes a likely second round matchup against the Cavaliers.

“(Tonight) will definitely be a test for us,” Boston’s Tyler Zeller told reporters Friday night following the Celtics’ 15-point victory over the injury-riddled Milwaukee Bucks. “It’s really where we are going to see where we are at. Milwaukee played well, but Atlanta is playing extremely well right now.”

The Hawks (47-32) come into tonight’s game with an identical record to the Celtics. But Atlanta would get the higher seed if the two finished the regular season with an identical record and the Hawks finished atop the Southeast division which is the most likely outcome at this point.

Atlanta has won six of its last eight games, with the only losses coming at Toronto and home against Cleveland.

Since the All-Star break, the Hawks are 16-8 with a winning percentage of .667 – the 4th highest in the NBA during that span.

 

Despite Atlanta’s impressive play of late, the Celtics are nowhere close to being intimidated or overly concerned about the success Atlanta has had this season.

“Our confidence doesn’t waver so we are very confident in every game we play in,” Boston’s Jared Sullinger told reporters following Friday night’s win. “We just got to come out and play.”

That mindset has helped Boston withstand the many ups and downs that have come about this season, and seemingly find ways to thrive in the many challenges set before them.

And that mental toughness has them on the brink of potentially going into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, a much loftier perch than many thought the Celtics would be in position to do this season.

“Our biggest thing is just the health of the team,” Sullinger said. “We got a lot of guys that have nagging injuries; ET (Evan Turner) with his eye, Jae’s (Crowder) ankle. There are just a lot of things going on that is just nagging and we just got to take care of it.”

While that remains the goal, players are quick to acknowledge that it’s a lot easier said than done.

And getting the victory becomes even more challenging when you consider its importance and the fact that it’s being played on the road.

“For us it’s all about playing good basketball and playing the best basketball we can going into the playoffs,” said Celtics center Kelly Olynyk. “We have three more games to keep building to keep getting better and then they will start to really count.”