(Updated: 10:50 p.m.)
If they win this series, if the Hawks somehow manage to bury the Boston demon one postseason after burying the Orlando demon, it can’t be the Josh-and-Joe show. It has to be this guy, or that guy, the other guy or … wait, which guy was banned in Korea again?
It has to be like what happened Sunday night.
Boston cuts a 19-point lead to 10. What happens? Kirk Hinich hits a three-pointer. Jason Collins hits a pair of shots (wait, Jason Collins?). So starts an 11-2 run that re-inflates the lead to 19.
Later in the fourth quarter, Boston cuts the lead to eight. What happens? Jannero Pargo drives for a hoop. Tracy McGrady sneaks past three seemingly comatose Celtics for a rebound and a jam. Suddenly the lead is back up to 12.
This is how you win a playoff series. The Hawks won only one game Sunday night, not a series, but Game 1 was significant.
They defeated the Celtics 83-74 at Philips Arena (where Boston amusingly was swept in three playoff games in 2008). They won with significant contributions through the lineup. They won it, not because any single player carried them but because everybody carried them just enough.
It was like watching a line of ants transporting a kernel of rice.
“We knew we had to win the energy game,” coach Larry Drew said. “We had to win the hustle game. I think we did that.”
How perfectly was this win wrapped up in the end? It was the Celtics — the playoff-veteran team — that melted down in the end.
With the Hawks leading 78-74 and 1:01 left, Josh Smith dove on the court for a loose ball with Brandon Bass. Smith came up with the ball as the whistle blew. Bass was called for a foul. Guard Rajon Rondo, who has been the Celtics’ best player, argued the call, screaming for a jump ball. He was hit with a technical, then bumped official Marc Davis and was ejected. The free throws not only helped seal the win, Rondo may be suspended for Game 2 Tuesday night.
Did the floor just tilt?
Rondo’s interesting interpretation of what happened: “As I was walking I thought he stopped and my momentum carried me into him. I even think I tripped on his foot. I didn’t intentionally chest bump him.”
This is where I mention that the Hawks are playing without Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, because, well, not a lot of people are picking the Hawks to win this series without them. (ESPN has a panel of 13 “experts”: 12 picked the Celtics, the other didn’t get the memo and picked the Hawks.)
It would have helped the Celtics if somebody other than Ray Allen could hit a three-point shot. As it was, he was wearing a suit because of a sprained ankle and his teammates went 0-for-11.
Drew summarized his team’s injury situation going into the playoffs: “This is the reason we had so much dialogue in the offseason about strengthening our bench. We needed depth. My bench will have to be effective for us to be successful.”
What we saw were players diving for loose balls, crashing the boards. We saw Johnson, while dreadful offensively — 3-for-15 shooting, 0-for-9 from three-range, 11 points, four turnovers — play strong on defense. It was Johnson who said before the game that the team must play “nastier” without Horford and Pachulia.
The Hawks hit eight of their first 11 shots. Hinrich, who generally has been pedestrian since coming back from an injury, hit a pair of threes. Atlanta led 16-4, 24-10, 29-12.
Smith was, in Drew’s word, “an animal.” He led the Hawks with 22 points, 18 rebounds four assists and a block.
“When he’s playing with that energy, when he’s playing with that type of rhythm, he just makes us so much better,” Drew said.
This isn’t like 2008, when the young Hawks could play “loosey-goosey,” in the playoff series against the Celtics because, as Johnson said, “Everybody expected us to get swept anyway.”
This series is different. Maybe externally, expectations aren’t high. But the Hawks view themselves as no worse than equals to the Celtics. They even finished the season with a better record, even though Boston was one of the league’s hottest teams down the stretch (24-10 after the All-Star break).
And in Game 1, the Hawks looked like the better team.
By Jeff Schultz