Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

BOSTON Throughout the ups and downs of what has been a turbulent season for the Boston Celtics, the C's never really put a lot of stock in the need to win at home. That's because for them, it was never seen as a necessity but rather an expectation.

That's why the Celtics were never really pressed about finishing with a better record than the Hawks, which would have landed them the home court advantage at the start of the series.

"We believe in ourselves and that when we play the way we're capable of playing, that we can beat anyone, anywhere," C's guard Keyon Dooling told CSNNE.com.

Boston proved just that in snatching the home court edge away from the Hawks with a Game 2 win in Atlanta. They proved that they can get it done at home, too, with a Game 3 overtime win on Friday.

A victory tonight for Boston would give them a 3-1 series lead, the kind of edge that would most likely prove too steep for the Hawks to overcome.

And if the C's win this series and the Sixers continue their upset run over the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, the Celtics would begin their second-round series with home court advantage -- something they did not anticipate having at any point to start a series.

But first things first. They must take care of the Hawks, and defending home court will indeed be a major factor in this series now. Here are a few other keys to tonight's game as the C's try to continue their home dominance in the playoffs against the Hawks (23-2 since 1960).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR No one knows for sure what Josh Smith will bring to the floor in his expected return to the Atlanta Hawks lineup. Before the left knee injury that forced him to miss Game 3, Smith was the best player in this series. It'll be worth keeping an eye on whether he can rekindle that individual dominance in Game 4, which as he put it, has to be approached with a must-win mentality. "I understand the importance of this game coming up (tonight)," Smith told CSNNE.com. "You can't play injured, but you can play a little hurt. My teammates need me out there, so I have to go out there and try to play the best I can play."

MATCHUP TO WATCH Avery Bradley vs. Kirk Hinrich: If Avery Bradley (left shoulder) plays as expected, it'll be worth keeping tabs on whether the Hawks try to test that injured shoulder by putting Hinrich in a lot of pick-and-rolls with their bigs. If Bradley's shoulder becomes problematic, this is where it'll be most noticeable. Although Hinrich was scoreless (0-for-3) in Atlanta's Game 3 loss, the C's know his game well enough to understand that you can't leave him open too many times before he makes you pay.

PLAYER TO WATCH Paul Pierce has been giving the Celtics about as much as he can after three games, averaging 24.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. But he's doing it by logging a ton of minutes -- 44.3 per game, to be exact. He hasn't averaged that many minutes in the playoffs since the 2002-2003 season when he averaged 44.5 minutes played in 10 playoff games. You have to wonder if at some point if all those minutes will catch up to Pierce and the C's.

STAT TO TRACK Both of these jump-shooting teams will try and be the aggressor tonight. The clearest example of who is winning this battle can be seen in the number of free throw attempts. Boston is ninth among playoff teams in free throw attempts, with 23 per game. The Hawks are dead-last, with 18.7 per game.

Bradley (Achilles) 'felt good' during return to Celtics lineup

Bradley (Achilles) 'felt good' during return to Celtics lineup

WALTHAM, Mass. – As the final horn blew in Boston’s 108-98 win over Charlotte on Monday night, the game was a win-win kind of night for Avery Bradley.

The Celtics (26-15) continue rolling over opponents at the TD Garden, and he played a relatively pain-free 33 minutes in the win.

It was Bradley’s first game back after missing the previous four with a strained right Achilles injury.

And the fact that he was back on the practice floor on Tuesday (be it a light practice, mind you), bodes well for his injury being a thing of the past now.

“I felt good. It wasn’t sore at all in the game,” Bradley said. “I felt I was moving good. After the game I was a little sore and this morning, but otherwise I felt good.”

Despite Boston being 4-1 this season when Bradley doesn’t play, he has immense value to this Celtics team at both ends of the floor.

Offensively he has been Boston’s second-leading scorer most of this season and currently averages a career-high 17.7 points per game along with 6.9 rebounds which is also a career high.

And defensively, Bradley is coming off a season in which he was named to the NBA’s all-Defensive First Team for the first time.

Any questions or concerns about the Achilles affecting his play defensively were put to rest Monday night when he put the defensive clamps on Nicolas Batum who missed nine of his 11 shots from the field while primarily being guarded by Bradley.

Now his offense, that’s another story.

Bradley failed to reach double digits scoring for the first time this season as he missed seven of his nine shots on Monday to finish with just five points.

But part of that had to do with Bradley passing up shots he normally takes, as well as him missing some he normally knocks down.

Considering his lay-off and the rhythm his teammates have been in shooting the ball in his absence, Bradley wisely decided to get his defensive bearings on track and gradually bring his offensive game around. 

“I have to get my (shooting) rhythm back,” said Bradley who is making a career-best 40.9 percent of his 3-pointers this season. “I’m fine. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”