May 6, 2012; Boston, MA USA; Boston Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley (0) defends against Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague (0) in the third quarter of game four in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. The Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 101-79. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

Boston Celtics Playoff Push: Game 5

Coming into game five the stakes are still high for the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics. The pressure is on as Boston tries to close out the series;Atlanta will do their best to stand in their way as they try to force a game six back in the TD Garden and a game seven in Philips Arena.

Atlanta will take it one game at a time and they’ll have their home crowd behind them in the Highlight Factory tonight. Atlanta must have amnesia as they try to bounce back from a 22 point thrashing suffered at the TD Garden on Sunday. They allowed Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce to go crazy and combine for 44 points on only 18 shots. Rondo added 16 assists to that total as well leading Boston to one of their most dominant victories all season long.

What to watch for

Al Horford returned to the court after not playing a game since January. He was able to play 20 minutes and had 12 points and five rebounds. He was even able to start the second half of play. I’d think that in a do-or-die game five for the Hawks, Larry Drew would start Horford, though that may be considered a long shot considering his conditioning.

The Hawks will need all the help that they can get to win this game and they’ll take it from anywhere. For them to have a chance, Josh Smith must play like he did before his knee injury in game three. He is the force that keeps the Hawks rolling as he can facilitate, defend, and play big in the paint. The Hawks will be only as good as Josh Smith plays.

When right, Smith is the perfect offensive matchup to have to go against Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass. They simply aren’t able to keep up with him off of the dribble and aren’t able to out-rebound him either. Smith has the elite athleticism that the two Boston big men lack. He should see a lot of touches during tonight’s game because the Hawks need to go with what worked for them in game one.

Boston will need to play just as they did in games two through four. They’ll need to remain locked in on defense and keep from being lazy. All of the effort plays matter in the postseason. Every dive, every hard foul, and every loose ball will count. If Boston fights for those balls, as they have throughout the series, they’ll win this game.

Rondo must dominate this game as well. This has become the common theme for the Boston Celtics over the past couple of years and it gets pretty repetitive writing it. Rajon Rondo is the belt to the engine that is the Boston Celtics. He does an excellent job, maybe the best in the league, at making the players around him better. If he can play just as he has throughout this first round series, then Boston should win this game and go far in the playoffs as well. There is nothing more potent in this league than a point guard who is able to dominate a game. They’ll make the players around them five times better because of their lack of shot volume and the way they control the pace of a game. Rondo does those two things better than most guards in the NBA.

Paul Pierce’s contributions should not be understated here either. In this series, Pierce has scored 23.3 points per game and has averaged 27 points in the three wins Boston has earned this series. Pierce has set the tone for his team numerous times as well. He carried Boston on his back in game two when Rondo was suspended and willed them to victory in a sloppy game three as well with his 14 free throw attempts on an awful shooting night for him. Pierce has been able to just get the job done for Boston when they needed him to and I believe he’ll continue to do so.

I think Boston will close the series out in a close one tonight. Atlanta has their backs up against the wall and will throw the kitchen sink at Boston. The Celtics know this and are a veteran team so they’ll be able to land the finishing blow to the Hawks and await their new opponent in the next series which looks like it will be Philadelphia.

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