Notes on Celtics-Hawks Game 4

1190922388Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Four games in, and suddenly the Atlanta Hawks are shocking the world. You couldn’t find a soul, outside of Atlanta, who gave the Hawks even a slight chance last night, and here they are with the series tied, 2-2.

What was so disconcerting for the Celtics is they delivered not one, but two, knockout punches last night—opening up 16-3, and taking a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter—and they still couldn’t close the deal. The whole turn of events was so stunning, Donny Marshall was left with nothing but spin: “Both teams did what they had to do,” Donny said. “They won their games at home.”

Um, no. When you finish 29 games ahead of your opponent, you are supposed to sweep, or at the very least, split on their court. After the jump, three observations of what has become a very interesting series.

1.) The bad Paul Pierce showed up last night. He started his day on the receiving end of a $25,000 fine for making a “menacing gesture” at Al Horford during Game 3. There is speculation that Pierce was flashing a gang sign, while the Celtics say it’s a team thing. Asked about it during the game by TNT’s Cheryl Miller, NBA Commissioner David Stern said, “A ‘menacing gesture’ is any gesture that we deem to be menacing.” OK. It must be nice to make up the rules as you go along. Just ask Seattle.

Then the game happened. On the one hand, Pierce was the only Celtic beside Rajon Rondo to take the ball aggressively to the basket. On the other, he shot 5-for-14 from the floor, missed half his free throws, and inexplicably short-armed a wide-open layup that would have made it a 2-point game.

2.) If the Hawks played this hard every night, they would have won 45 games easily. Atlanta uses six guys, seven if you count Zaza Pachulia—who flops more than the San Antonio Spurs. Five of them were lottery picks, and Josh Smith would have been, if anyone had trusted his game coming out of high school. They have talent to spare, but not always the discipline.

Oddly enough, it was the Celtics who lacked discipline last night. When Zaza is getting in your face, the appropriate response is to laugh, and then post him up five straight times. Instead, KG went nose-to-nose with him, while Sam Cassell swooped in for a completely useless technical foul. But it got worse. KG appeared to shove referee Eddie Rush in the heat of the moment, while Kendrick Perkins and Atlanta’s Marvin Williams left their respective benches. Expect suspensions for Perkins and Williams, and hold your breath for Garnett.

3.) Doc Rivers is about to start taking some heat. In the fourth quarter, Joe Johnson went 1-on-everybody on nine straight possessions. It was a tour-de-force performance by Johnson who made shots you wouldn’t try in a game of H-O-R-S-E. That said, the Celtics didn’t make a defensive adjustment until it was way too late. Doc had Tony Allen and James Posey on his bench; either would have been a much better matchup on Johnson than Ray Allen.

After the game, Tommy Heinsohn even had some criticism for Doc: “It’s time for them to grow up, and it’s time for the coaching staff to grow up.” Whoa. Tommy Point!