Smith has 'monster game' for Hawks

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Smith has 'monster game' for Hawks

ATLANTA Before Sunday's game, Paul Pierce spoke in glowing terms about Atlanta's Josh Smith.

"He is a lot of work," Pierce said at the time. "He's an All-Star in my mind. He's playing as good as anybody in the NBA at this point."

Little did Pierce know how true his words would be, as Smith put the Hawks on his back for long stretches as they ultimately soared past the Boston Celtics for an 83-74 win.

Atlanta's victory was indeed a team-wide win, but the play of Smith stood head and shoulders above the rest.

He led all players with 22 points and 18 rebounds.

"He (Smith) was an animal," said Atlanta head coach Larry Drew. "Josh is a guy that, when he's playing with that energy, when he's playing with that type of rhythm, he just makes us so much better."

Smith came into this series, much like he did this season, with something to prove.

Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and a host of other NBA players have often said that Smith is indeed an all-star caliber player.

Anytime he hears players praise him, it feels good.

But Smith admits it means even more hearing players like Pierce and Garnett give him props for his play.

"Those guys are Hall of Fame players," Smith told CSNNE.com. "To hear that come out of their mouths, it really gives me motivation and drive to become an All-Star one day."

For Smith, the biggest challenge for him has been becoming more consistent with his play.

Although he averaged just under 19 points per game this season, far too often Smith took bad shots or made bad decisions with the ball.

But as he has grown more and more into a leader, Atlanta head coach Larry Drew has become more comfortable with giving him some leeway.

"Every now and then, he'll take a crazy shot," Drew said. "Which I'm willing to live with for all the things he does do well. Defensively, he takes the challenge in the post, he's a shot-blocker. He just played a monster game. We really fed off his energy at the beginning of the game."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Cavs

WATCH: Celtics vs. Cavs

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics host the Hawks at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

BOSTON – Brad Stevens has said on more than one occasion that the Boston Celtics’ record (38-22) is a bit better than their actual play.

While it may come across as exaggerated humility on Stevens’ part, the coach makes a very good point.

Despite Boston having the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, they have struggled mightily this season against the top-four teams in the East outside of themselves.

Boston will have a chance to rewrite at least one chapter in that narrative tonight when they host the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Against the top-four teams in the East (Cleveland, Washington, Toronto and Atlanta), the Celtics are just 3-8 which falls short of how those teams have fared against one another this season.

The Cavs are 7-1 against the East’s top-4 clubs with the lone loss at Atlanta in November. Toronto (5-5) and Atlanta (4-4) have a .500 records against the top-4 while Washington (4-5) is just a game below-.500.

That’s why tonight’s game against Cleveland is so important to Boston.

It’s not just about beating the best team in the East.

For them, it’s about beating a good team, the kind of team that they have to get past in the postseason if they are to make the kind of deep playoff run that so many of the players have their sights set on.

Coming off of a 114-98 home loss to Atlanta, the Celtics know they have to play better – a lot better – to avoid losing a second game in a row, and four of their last five.

“They’re a good team,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “If we’re not locked in, they’ll beat us worse than the Hawks. So we have to come out, execute, play harder, feed off the crowd and do our job. We should be victorious.”

That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re talking about a Cleveland team that’s truly built for the postseason.

That said, the Cavs are about as vulnerable to defeat now as they will be anytime this season.

All-Star forward Kevin Love is out until late March following “minor” surgery on his left knee.

“There’s definitely enough time to where I can get into a good rhythm,” Love told reporters earlier this week.

In addition to Love, the Cavs are also without J.R. Smith who underwent right thumb surgery in December that’s expected to keep him out until at least the middle of March.

Said Love, “I imagine between J.R. and myself, we’ll get out there and get our wind and be ready to go for (the playoffs) in April.”

Even without Love and Smith, Cleveland has plenty of firepower to remain the team to beat in the East.

It all starts with LeBron James who is averaging 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and a career-high 8.9 assists per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.

And then there’s Kyrie Irving who continues to play at a level which puts him among the best guards in the NBA. He’s averaging a career-high 24.6 points while dishing out 6.0 assists to go with 3.3 rebounds.

Tristan Thompson. Iman Shumpert. New guys Derrick Williams and Deron Williams.

Go down the line and it’s clear that the Cavs have elite talent and depth to which beating them, regardless of who may be missing in action, will not be easy.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have to simply do what they do best … only better.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We’ve got to make shots.”