Atlanta Hawks @ Boston Celtics -3
Boston is absolutely on fire since the All-Star break. Their 18-7 record is the best in the NBA and last night’s 115-107 victory at Miami just punctuated what many around the league have been quietly whispering for weeks; Boston is a legitimate sleeper contender in the East. Granted, it is hard to see them, or anyone for that matter, dispatching both Chicago and Miami in consecutive series, but it wouldn’t be the first time that Doc’s sleeping dogs are awoken just in time for some May and June magic.
Their toughest opponent tonight won’t be the Hawks, it will be themselves. Will Boston be able to rebound both physically and emotionally from last night’s taxing and emotion win in Miami? Kevin Garnett was sensational, outdueling Chris Bosh down the final two minutes, hitting vintagae turnaround jumpshots and fadeaways that reminded everyone why Garnett is a first ballot hall-of-famer when the time is right… but perhaps that time is still a few years farther away than we thought.
Boston has won three of four against Atlanta dating back to last season, and certainly has momentum on their side. They also have a substantial advantage at point guard, the position where Atlanta is weakest and the position where Boston is best. Rajon Rondo has become the third player in the history of the NBA to record double digits in assists for 18 straight games, a streak that is still going and seems likely to continue tonight against the Hawks.
I don’t think Boston takes their foot off the gas pedal tonight. They have opened up a three game lead in the Atlantic Division, but with nine games still to play I think Doc will keep his team sharp and guard against the potential letdown tonight.
The Celtics have been a mixed bag on the back end of consecutive games. They own impressive wins over the Clippers, Pacers and Magic, but also own an embarrassing 32-point no-show loss to the Sixers and a few head-scratchers like the recent loss to Toronto.
However, with the exception of two hard-fought losses to the Bulls, there have been little flaws in Boston’s effort and performance the last four weeks. Pierce, Allen and Garnett are all healthy at the same time, and Rondo is playing perhaps his best basketball since entering the NBA. I like Boston to handle their business at home and continue their steamroll toward the playoffs.
Free Pick: Boston Celtics -3