Celtic pride. Ever heard of it? Well, it should have been on display Friday night. Turns out all we saw was Celtic age. And all we heard was the whoosh of a younger team flashing past the regal C’s and sweeping them out the door.
The Hawks have played the Celtics four times this season, beaten them four times. No, these aren’t the playoffs and nobody has been eliminated, but we cannot miss the importance of this achievement. Boston was the team that dismissed the Hawks in Game 7 in May 2008, the team that swept the Hawks 4-0 last season. It wasn’t so long ago that we were asking ourselves, “Are the Celtics in the Hawks’ heads?”
And now? Said Jamal Crawford, the architect of Friday’s victory: “Not this year.” Then he smiled and patted his questioner on the back. “Not this year.”
The Celtics spent the offseason getting older. The Hawks spent it getting better. Trading for Crawford didn’t make one one-thousandth of the noise that accompanied Shaq relocating to Cleveland or Vince to Orlando or Rasheed to Boston, but that heist of Rick Sund’s was the move of the summer.
Crawford entered this game averaging 17.7 points and 3.3 assists against the Celtics this season, prompting Boston center Kendrick Perkins to reveal in a pregame interview: “We put out a hit on him today.”
(Note to Perkins: This probably wasn’t the best week in NBA history to use such verbiage.)
Told as much before the game, Crawford’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, really?” he said. Then he went out and scored 18 points and made four assists — in the first half. He flipped home a 45-footer at the first-quarter horn to give the Hawks the lead. He hoisted a stepback jumper over Perkins, who knocked him to the floor but couldn’t induce a miss. He drove for the hoop that gave the Hawks a 14-point lead just before halftime.
Put out a hit? For Boston, this was closer to a no-hitter.
But that’s the thing about these C’s. They’re yesterday’s men. They talk better than they play, at least against the Hawks. They were better than the local team in 2008 and 2009, but now it’s Twenty-Ten and time marches onward.
Before the game, Celtics announcer Mike Gorman asked Doc Rivers, the Boston coach: “Perception is that the team has struggled against the Hawks because they’re younger. Do you buy that?”
Said Rivers: “Well, they are.”
Younger and stronger. Younger and faster. Younger and deeper. Younger and better. If you’re the Hawks, the Celtics are now the team you’re hoping to see in Round 2 come May.
Said Al Horford: “We’re playing way better against them than we were. We know now we can definitely compete with anybody.”
It’s the Celtics who must be wondering if they can compete with the Hawks anymore. They invested no small amount of physical and psychic capital in this game — Perkins again: “We’re just trying not to get swept” — and they lost by nine points and threw the ball away 16 times and made a second-half run not because of talent but guile. (Translation: The C’s got the refs involved.)
Teams, the Hawks included, used to fear the Celtics. The Hawks tremble no longer. Before the game, a tape of Boston’s loss in Orlando on Thursday was playing, and the trash-talking Kevin Garnett was shown missing an alley-oop. Said one Hawk: “KG, you ain’t got it!”
Boston prides itself on its defense. Crawford cut it into paper dolls. He scored 28 points and made six assists and afterward he credited Perkins, sort of. “It fired me up when I heard about it.” Crawford said, speaking of the threatened “hit.”
And when Perkins slammed into him? “I just smiled. I figured the ‘hit’ was in the back of his mind, too.”
Once the Celtics were the impediment the Hawks couldn’t surmount. Now they’re just a team that’s 0-for-4 against Atlanta. Boston used to be the Beast of the East, the class of the league. But not this year. This year the Hawks are in the Celtics’ heads. Heh, heh.