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Celtics and Hawks clash in a battle for the 3rd seed

The Celtics visit the Hawks with with the third seed in the East as the prize for the victor.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics (47-32) at Atlanta Hawks (47-32)
Saturday, April 9. 2016
7:30 PM ET
Regular Season Game #80 Road Game #41
TV: CSNNE, FSSE, NBA-LP 750(DTV)/752(xfinity)
Radio: 98.5 Sports Hub, 92.9 FM The Game
Philips Arena

Referees: Zach Zarba, Nick Buchert, Scott Wall

The Celtics face the Hawks in what may be one of the most important games of the season. The Celtics want to be the 3rd seed but need to beat the Hawks to get it. Getting the 3rd seed is important for 2 reasons. One, it would give the Celtics home court advantage for the first round. Second, It would also allow them to avoid the Cavaliers until the Eastern Conference Finals should they get that far.

There is just 1 game separating the 3rd and 6th place teams in the East. Every game is important and the Celtics hold their fortunes in their own hands. They face the 3rd place Hawks in this game and then will face the 6th place Hornets and finally the 5th place Heat all in the final week of the season. For once, the Celtics don't need to hope another team loses. They just have to take care of business and win out their final 3 games.

The Hawks hold a 2-1 edge in the series so far this season. The Celtics won the first game in the series 106-93 in Boston and then lost in Atlanta 97-121 and then again in Boston 109-101. The Hawks are a good home team with a 26-14 record at Philips Arena. The Celtics are just 20-20 on the road.

The Celtics are playing in the second of back to back games after beating the Bucks at home on Friday night. The Celtics are 12-6 overall in the second of back to back games but just 2-3 when those games are home/road. The Celtics were able to keep the starters all below 25 minutes which should help as they go into this game. The Hawks are 7-3 in their last 10 games while the Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10.. The Hawks have won 2 straight while the Celtics have won 4 straight.

The Hawks are missing Tiago Splitter who is out with a hip injury. Kent Bazemore missed Atlanta's win over the Raptors on Thursday with a sore knee but is expected to play in this game. Evan Turner and Marcus Smart are dealing with eye injuries but both played on Friday night and should play in this one.

With the win on Friday, the Celtics are now tied with the Hawks record-wise but they are in 4th because the Hawks own the tie breaker. The Celtics are 1 game ahead of the Heat, who lost to the Magic on Friday and also 1 game up on Charlotte who beat the Nets (and helped out the Celtics draft pick). The Celtics could move one game ahead of Atlanta for the 3rd spot or end up 1 game behind them so this game will pretty much decide the 3rd seed. Games to watch: Sunday - CHA@WAS and ORL@MIA.

Probable Starting Matchups
Point Guard

Isaiah Thomas vs Jeff Teague

Shooting Guard

Avery Bradley vs Kyle Korver

Small Forward
Jae Crowder vs Kent Bazemore

Power Forward

Amir Johnson vs Paul Millsap

Jared Sullinger vs Al Horford

Celtics Reserves
Evan Turner
RJ Hunter
Jonas Jerebko
Jordan Mickey
Terry Rozier
James Young
Tyler Zeller
Kelly Olynyk

Head Coach

Brad Stevens

Marcus Smart (eye) probable
Evan Turner (eye) probable

Hawks Reserves
Dennis Schroder
Kriis Humphries
Mike Scott
Lamar Patterson
Tim Hardaway Jr
Walter Tavares
Mike Muscala
Thabo Sefalosha
Kurt Hinrich

Head Coach
Mike Budenholzer

Tiago Splitter (hip) out

Key Matchups
Amir Johnson vs Paul Millsap
Millsap is averaging 17.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.8 steals per game. He had 20 points (15 in the 4th quarter) in the Hawks' last win over the Celtics. He is a handful for anyone to have to guard. Amir has been playing very well since shaking the plantar fasciitis that was plaguing him earlier in the season. The Celtics will need a big game out of him to limit Milsap's effect on the game.

Jared Sullinger vs Al Horford
Horford is averaging 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. In their last meeting with the Celtics, Horford had a big game with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. Sully will need to play him tough on both ends.

Honorable Mention
Isaiah Thomas vs Jeff Teague
Teague is averaging 15.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. Teague is capable of having a big game on both ends and hopefully Isaiah is able to handle him. Avery will have hist hands full guarding Kyle Korver, who is capable of putting up big numbers if left open.

Keys to the Game
Play as a Team - The Celtics play best when they play as a team on both ends of the court. They have to move the ball and find the open man who then has to hit his shots. They need to work as a team on defense and get stops and turn them into fast breaks. Their playoff theme is "We are one superstar." They need to remember that and play great team ball.

Take Care of the Ball - The Hawks are 2rd in the league in steals with 9.3 per game and they are 4th in the league with 18.6 points off turnovers. The Celtics have to make good passes and not allow the Hawks to get extra points off steals and turnovers. If the Celtics get careless, the Hawks will make them pay. In their last loss to the Hawks in Boston, the Celtics turned the ball over 22 times and that is way too many.

Rebound - The Celtics have to make an extra effort to crash the glass and not give the Hawks extra possessions. Horford and Milsap are tough on the boards and the Celtics need to box out and aggressively go after the rebounds as a team to avoid giving them second chance and fast break points.

- Defense wins games. The Hawks have players who can put points up in a hurry and the Celtics have to concentrate on defense to keep them from having big games. The Celtics have to play tough defense inside as in their last game vs the Hawks, Atlanta scored 68 points in the paint compared to just 36 for the Celtics. They also have to defend the perimeter as the Hawks have good 3 point shooters who can score in bunches.

Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to play hard for all 48 minutes. The Celtics came out sluggish on defense against the Bucks on Friday and were down 9-3 at the start after allowing the Bucks to get into the paint at will. The Celtics can't afford that against the Hawks. Also, over their last 4 games, Atlanta has been scoring 29.3 points in the 4th quarter while holding opponents to 17.3 points. The Celtics need to start strong and finish strong with no let up.

Be Aggressive
- The Celtics must be the team that plays harder and that wants this win more. They have to be aggressive in diving for loose balls, in going to the basket, in getting stops on the defensive end, and in going after rebounds. They have to play harder and be more aggressive.

Motivation - The Celtics could be in sole possession of the 3rd seed and have a 1 game lead on Atlanta or they could be 1 game behind Atlanta for the 3rd seed. We know that Atlanta will also be motivated to get that 3rd seed. Which team's motivation will be strongest to get the win.

Officiating - Officiating is aways an x-factor. The Celtics play best when the officials let them play and don't call a lot of ticky tack fouls for incidental contact. Referees with an agenda are always a possibility as well. But the Celtics can't let the officials take them out of their game with bad or ticky tack calls.

Official Report
Zach Zarba

Zach Zarba has officiated 764 regular season NBA games, 39 playoff games and three Finals game during his 12 year career. Prior to joining the NBA, Zarba officiated in the NBA Development League for two years, where he was part of the crew that officiated the 2003 D-League Finals. He also spent one year officiating in the CBA and two years officiating in the IBL. Zarba has three years of collegiate officiating experience in the ACC, SEC, Colonial, ASUN, OVC and NEC Conferences. In addition, he has three years of high school officiating experience in New York.

The Celtics are 3-2 this season and 4-6 in their last 10 games with Zarba. He called the first game of the season vs the Sixers and the officiating in that game was good. In a win over Cleveland last season, however, Zarba made 3 terrible calls down the stretch which prompted Tommy to say "Zach Zarba, every time we have this guy he makes things up." He called the game vs OKC this season and overall let them play but gave OKC the benefit on quite a few calls that even Scal mentioned. But overall, they let them play. In the loss to the Nets this season, there were a lot of bad calls going both ways. They called a lot of ticky tack contact and there was no flow to the game but the officiating didn't favor either team.

Against the Magic this season there were a lot of questionable calls. Evan Turner was ejected after complaining about a series of bad/no calls. Isaiah fouled out for the first time in his career. Jonas Jerebko also fouled out. Orlando shot 35 free throws to 25 for the Celtics. In the game vs Utah this season the officiating was very good. They let both teams play and if anything, gave the Celtics the benefit of a few 50-50 calls. The Celtics shot 29 free throws to 17 for the Jazz. Utah fans thought that Zarba was a Celtics fan and Tommy thought the officiating was very good. The Hawks are 2-1 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Zarba. His home W/L record this season is 39-26.

Nick Buchert

Nick Buchert enters his sixth NBA season having officiated 282 games. Buchert owns nine years of collegiate officiating experience. Additionally, he has officiated the 2010 NBA D-League Finals and 2010 NBA D-League All-Star Game. There's not much controversy about Buchert and he has been decent in his games with the Celtics. He called the Sixers game this season and let them play and the officiating was good.He was on the crew that called the win over Golden State. The officiating was good and they let both teams play with only a few questionable calls. The Celtics shot 30 FT to 13 for the Warriors, mostly as a result of the Celtics going inside while the Warriors shot mostly jumpers. The Celtics are 4-0 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Buchert while the Hawks are 1-4 this season and 4-6 in their last 10. His home W/L record is 34-27.

Scott Wall
The son of former USA Basketball Director Bill Wall, Scott Wall has officiated 1,098 regular season games and nine playoff games over his 20 NBA seasons. In addition to his NBA experience, Wall has four years of officiating experience for USA Basketball, four years of collegiate officiating experience in the Atlantic Coast, Ohio Valley, and Trans America Athletic Conferences, and five years of high school officiating experience in Kansas and Alabama.

Wall was the ref that called the clothesline on Barbosa by Bogans in the Nets game 3 seasons ago just a regular foul. Wall also officiated the Cavs game last season where they called it evenly through 3 quarters and then they gave the game to the Cavs in the 4th quarter. Wall also officiated a Warriors game last season where all the calls down the stretch went the Warriors way and even Warriors fans were surprised at all the calls going their way.

He called a game vs the Knicks this season in which the officiating was bad both ways but neither team was given an advantage since the bad calls went against both teams. The Celtics are 3-1 this season and 5-5 in their last 10 games with Wall while the Hawks are 1-3 this season and 5-5 in their last 10 games. His home W/L record is 24-29.

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