Atlanta Hawks at Celtics Game 4: Celtics 101, Hawks 79
Boston–I could sense the anguish among tweeps over this one. Just when they thought they could at least expect the Hawks to compete, they do this. So much for management’s boasts about being in the same league as the Celtics and the Lakers.
- Now comes the mockery from Charles Barkley and every other critic who said the Hawks would eventually go belly up. The Hawks never really surrendered like this all season. So why did it happen now, when they were healthier and the stakes were so high?
- “I really can’t [explain it],” Al Horford said. “I’m trying to sit there and look at it but the only thing that I can tell is that from the beginning of the game, from the jump ball, they established themselves and were way more aggressive. I think we were on our heels from that point on. You can’t do that in the playoffs.”
- “It felt like we was going to do something good, what, the first five or six minutes of the first quarter,” Josh Smith said. “They just went on a run and scored, what,  points in the first quarter? That’s giving this team way too many points in one quarter.You catch yourself climbing uphill against a team that’s good like this that knows how to put a team away.”
- “It’s very disappointing,” Larry Drew said. “It’s a playoff game. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be jacked up to play. The fact that we did not respond to their aggressiveness, it just totally took us out of our game. We didn’t respond to it all. We didn’t have the zap, we didn’t have the speed. We were doing everything at about 60 percent. This is the the playoffs. How can you not have it?”
- On a day when Mike Woodson finally managed to end his streak of playoff embarrassments, Drew delivered one of his own. His rotations were out of whack again. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d made all the right moves considering his team wasn’t ready to play, but we didn’t get to find out.
- Drew on not playing Ivan Johnson until garbage time: “He was available. I just decided I was going to play Al those minutes.” Ivan wasn’t very good in Game 3 and Jason Collins had been effective in Games 1 and 2, but it quickly became clear this game better suited for Ivan’s energy than Collins’ beef.
- Drew on leaving the starters in through the third quarter, when the Hawks never cut the lead to less than 25: “I was going to try to put a dent in it. We had two or three possessions where we had some good things happen. I just said if we couldn’t close the gap in the third quarter then I would just let the starters” sit.
- I can sort of see why Al continued to play. He needs to knock off the rust and there’s no increased risk of re-injury (though that collision with Ray Allen was a little scary). The counterargument is the Hawks are such longshots to come back and win this series, what’s the point?
- Leaving Josh in is harder to understand. He’s got patellar tendonitis and there’s a chance of re-injury because of weakness in the joint.
- In any event, both Josh and Al made it through the game unscathed. Josh said he would play in Game 5: “It felt OK. Obviously it was a little sore to begin with but when the game started flowing my knee started getting warm and a little more flexible. It will probably feel a little sore tomorrow but that’s how it is when you come back from an injury.”
- Josh clearly didn’t have his same explosiveness and he deserves credit for playing on a bum knee. But I thought his focus was lacking early, too. Those two careless turnovers in transition are nothing new but they ignited Boston’s running game.
- Al: “It’s a different feeling. It’s just exciting to be out there. I’ll be able to tell more how I feel tomorrow. Right now I have the adrenalin going. I will have to see how I feel [for Game 5].”
- Al had gone back-and-forth on whether he’d play in this series. “It was just being able to mentally prepare myself for a playoff-intense kind of game,” he said. “I knew that I wasn’t there two days ago and [also] my body feeling good. After yesterday’s practice I felt good enough and I told myself if I woke up Sunday and felt good I was going to try to give it a go.”
- Drew: “He came in after he warmed up and said he felt good, that he wanted to give it a go. My plan was to play him about five minutes a quarter, just to get his legs, get his wind a little bit longer. In the second half he got into a pretty good rhythm where he felt good.”
- Al looked (understandably) shaky during his first stint. By the second quarter he looked good enough that you remembered how badly the Hawks could have used him to start this series. That’s true even with Al missing his mid-range shots.
- That’s about all there is to talk about with the Hawks in this game. It was pretty much over after Paul Pierce made three Js during that 12-0 run early in the fourth quarter as the fans went wild and Atlanta bumbled through possessions.
- No doubt the Celtics made shots. It’s one thing for Paul Pierce to light it up but when Rajon Rondo, Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling are raining down jumpers, it’s not a good sign. But it’s also true that the Celtics played at a pace Atlanta couldn’t match.
- “They shot the mess out of it tonight,” Josh said. “I’m watching it being a real observer on the bench, and they are just running the plays way more harder than we are. Whatever play is called for—Ray Allen is coming off screens 100 miles per hour, Paul Pierce is finding a way to get open. [Kevin Garnett] setting screens and getting the guards open. We have to be able to try to duplicate what they do and get open. They are trying to hard to not let Joe catch the ball and being physical. We have to try to return the favor and see if they like it and stop being so passive.”
- The Hawks were a good transition D during the regular season (sixth in efficiency during the regular season, according to Synergy Sports Technology). The Celtics are a slow-paced team but that doesn’t mean they don’t run: Transition was their third-most used play type, according to Synergy. They ranked just 18th in efficiency but it’s been hard to tell against the Hawks.
- “We came into the series with a mindset of having to get up and down the floor, push the basketball and to make it a game of transition,” Drew said. “But it seems like they are doing it to us, which at the start of this series that would be an area where we should be able to flourish. But we have not done a good job of that. They are dictating the pace and rhythm of the game.”
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat