The Atlanta Hawks (43-10) are coming into this match-up with a franchise record for wins prior to the All-Star break and fresh off a victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Boston Celtics (19-31), on the other hand are coming off a road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Some may say the Hawks have this one in the bag, but hey, crazier things have happened at TD Garden.
One of the game’s best matchups will be between Tyler Zeller and Al Horford. Zeller has been phenomenal since entering the starting lineup on November 30th against San Antonio. As a reserve, Zeller averaged 8.0 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game. Since being promoted to a starting role, Zeller is averaging 11.0 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Zeller will be battling in the paint against Al Horford who will be playing in this weekend’s All-Star game for the third time. He is averaging 15.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg. Horford played very well last time he faced off against the Celtics, scoring 16 points, six rebounds, and two assists. Zeller will offer some great rim protection, and should be able to limit Horford’s scoring.
Marcus Smart was not known as a three point shooter in college, but so far in his rookie season is showing that he is more than capable of shooting the three. In the month of January, Smart has hit 25 three pointers, and shot 42.4% beyond the arc.
As Smart is finding his groove, Hawks point guard Jeff Teague has already found his, and he will be showcasing it in this week’s All Star game. Teague’s tight defense will give Marcus Smart a big challenge as he tries to maintain his starting role. However, Smart is fresh off of one of his best games of the season, scoring 13 points and gathering 5 rebounds against Milwaukee., and will not be easy to slow down.
This is the final time that these two teams will face off this season. The first meeting of the season between the two teams was on December 2nd, and although Jeff Green scored 25 points, and Rondo had 12 rebounds and 19 assists, the Celtics lost by four to the Hawks in Atlanta.
Unfortunately, the Celtics got rid of those guys so the second match-up between the two on January 14th featured a different group of players. However, the result was the same as the Celtics lost again to the Hawks who were playing without Teague and Horford.
While the Celtics have been coming together as a unit, the Hawks will likely be too much for the young Celtics to handle tonight. Atlanta’s starting five just won the Eastern Conference Player of the Month which provides a little perspective into how well the overall team has been playing together. I think the Hawks roll tonight at the Garden.
Prediction: Hawks 116 Celtics 94