BOSTON The Atlanta Hawks will be beefier along the front line tonight - and it's not just the return of Josh Smith, either.
In addition to Smith who did not play in Game 3 because of a knee injury suffered in the previous game, the Hawks will also have Al Horford on the active roster tonight.
Horford has missed all but 11 games this season following surgery to repair a pectoral muscle. His return, even in a limited capacity, can only help an Atlanta team that desperately needs to win tonight in order to keep their hopes of winning the series alive.
Although it's not impossible, the odds would be heavily stacked against the Hawks to win this series if they lost tonight and thus fell behind 3-1 in the series.
That is part of why Smith felt he had little choice but to play tonight.
In an interview with CSNNE.com on Saturday, Smith said he had every intention of playing in Game 4.
I understand the importance of this game," he told CSNNE.com at the time. "You can't play injured, but you can play a little hurt."
When asked which of the two was he, Smith grinned, "I'm a little hurt; a little hurt. Might be a little bit of both, know what I mean? I know when that adrenaline starts to kick in, I probably won't feel it until after the basketball game."
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BOSTON – The final score on the Jumbotron Friday night said the Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns 130-120.
But there was a clear and undeniable sense of loss on the part of the Celtics, even if Friday’s victory was their third in a row and sixth in the past seven games.
The Celtics (47-26) hope to continue on their winning ways tonight against a Miami Heat team currently among a handful fighting for one of the last playoff slots, but are doing so without Dion Waiters (ankle) who has been instrumental in their surge after an 11-30 start to the season.
Beating the Heat (35-37) will require Boston to play better than they did against the Suns, a game Boston won, but in many ways had the feeling of defeat.
Yes, Devin Booker’s career-high 70 points was very much a blow – a huge blow – to the pride of a team that takes tremendous pride in its defense.
But the sense of a loss came in the form of purpose while playing as close to their potential as possible.
The Celtics fell short on both fronts Friday night.
Being just one game behind Cleveland (47-24) for the best record in the East, the Celtics understand getting as many wins as possible is the mindset right now.
But coach Brad Stevens knows that while winning is important, how the team plays is even more valuable.
“Like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”
Is this Stevens’ way of trying to motivate his players after a not-so-great performance?
Or is he seriously concerned that his team isn’t as good as their record?
The Celtics, by their own standards, and to those of us on the outside looking in, know they are a better team than the one we saw on Friday night.
Not having Avery Bradley (sick) certainly hurt Boston’s efforts defensively.
Still, a Friday night’s game wore on, Booker’s confidence only grew and the Celtics’ desire to shut him down or at least slow him down, began to dissipate like an ice cube in hell.
And that’s a problem - a big problem - for a team that has to be connected at both ends of the floor for an extended period of time in order to play at the level their capable of and, most important, give them the best shot at emerging victorious in the postseason.
That’s why Stevens isn’t too caught up in the team’s chances of catching Cleveland, or whether they go into the playoffs riding a fat winning streak.
“I’m not going to get caught up in winning a couple of games in a row and all that stuff,” Stevens said. “I want to get caught up in playing well. We’ve shown ourselves capable of playing well, we have not sustained it throughout a game. And it’s been pretty consistent.”