Celtics 88 Hawks 85

Boxscore

Gameflow

Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
BOS 87.9 1.00 45.5 25.3 31.6 15.9
ATL 87.9 0.97 41.1 23.4 31.3 17.1

One long winning streak was hearty enough (or its hodler was healthy enough) to survive a trip to Atlanta. But only barely. Check out the four factors above. The boxscore saw this as tightly and evenly contested a game as did my eyes.

Possible determining factors for Boston's win...

  • Whereas only Ray Allen (1-8) struggled atypically from beyond the arc for Boston, both Joe Johnson (1-7) and Mike Bibby (2-8) struggled for the Hawks. Of course, the flip side* of that for Atlanta is that Josh Smith and Ronald Murray combined to make 3 of 5 three-pointers. Atypical isn't really a strong enough word to describe that.
  • Atlanta's willingness to switch ball screens and leave Mike Bibby guarding Paul Pierce one-on-one. On a night when no one who was used to making three-point shots was making them, Pierce attempted just one three-pointer mostly because he didn't need to. I presume the Boston staff watched tape of the Cleveland game where a couple of times in the second half, the Cavaliers had either Mo Williams or Delonte West set a screen for LeBron, the Hawks switched, and LeBron got to attack either Flip Murray or Mike Bibby one-on-one. Cleveland only ran this a handful of times. Boston had to run it at least 12-15 times. Bibby never had a chance.
  • Boston, with the bizarre exception of Atlanta's penultimate possession (if you count Bibby's prayer with .7 left a possession) where Joe Johnson was presented with just Ray Allen as an obstacle to the basket, did Johnson no such favors. When Atlanta ran (and ran and ran) isolations for Johnson on the wing, Boston put at least three defenders on the strong side. There was nowhere for Johnson to go and no one to receive the ball as off-the-ball movement, as 'Nique pointed out (and pointed out and pointed out) on the local broadcast last night, isn't really a part of the Hawks' half-court offense.
  • Marvin Williams missed three of seven free throw attempts. This is not to pick on Marvin, who had a strong game, especially on the glass, but to highlight the narrow margin of difference between victory and defeat last night. Marvin's a career 80% free throw shooter. If he makes his typical five or six out of seven, I'd probably be recapping a Hawks victory or at least a game that went into overtime.
  • Rajon Rondo: 7-12 FGA, 6 rebounds (2 offensive), 4 steals (I would have guessed more.), and another data point indicting Billy Knight's inability to find a good point guard.
  • Kevin Garnett in the final 8 minutes of the 4th quarter (10 points on 5 shots and 1 free throw plus 2 assists) vs. Joe Johnson in final 8 minutes of the 4th quarter (10 points on 6 shots and 6 free throw attempts and 0 assists). It was easier for Boston to get a good look down the stretch than it was for Atlanta.

*See what I did there?

Joe Johnson:

"We were right there and we just couldn’t get over the hump. This is tough, tough, man. This isn’t the way we planned it.”

I presume that Joe recognizes that the Hawks aren't in the game in the first place without him and hope that the disappointment of missing that free throw does not eat at him unduly.

Marvin Williams on missed free throws:

"That man has made too many game-winners for us to say anything about that free throw. I missed three myself. It’s just one of those nights where you play great defense and do all the things you can, but the game gets away from you.”

Marvin's never going to justify his draft position but he seems to be a genuinely good  teammate.

Kevin Garnett goes on the record:

"For the record, this is not a rivalry. You have to win some games for it to be a rivalry. But they are a very good team.”

He's right. Drew thinks so too.

In The Boston Globe, Frank Dell'apa has a longer version of Garnett's quote:

"This is not a rivalry. [The Hawks] are a very good team, they play with a lot of confidence and swagger. Joe Johnson is one of the best in the business and they cause a lot of hell and havoc. But you have to win for it to be a rivalry."

Rajon Rondo:

"If they played everybody the way they play us they’d be a top five team in the league."

Kelly Dwyer goes behind the boxscore at Ball Don't Lie:

Before we get down to the usual, I want to float something that I think is important. The Hawks could have won this game, and not only were they a few obvious changes away from pulling out the win (Joe Johnson making that last free throw, shoot a little better from the floor), they were also a few less-obvious changes (not tightening up in the final minutes, and I'm not referring to Joe Johnson ‘ere) away from winning.

But for them to be that close, even given this team's history with Boston, even given the home court advantage, that's an accomplishment. Horseshoes and hand grenades, I know, but this squad entered the game 11th in offense and 15th in defense. Josh Smith missed a few games, so you might bump those numbers up a few slots, but this team is way, way short of Boston's (7th and 1st, respectively) realm. They're probably short of Orlando's realm, even.

So the idea of having these sorts of expectations, and this brand of hype leading up to Atlanta's third straight loss against the defending champs, is pretty significant. It's no consolation, but we do need to keep some perspective.

Boston won because they have more talent, they play consistently to the final buzzer, and because they're smarter and cagier than the Hawks. They're smarter and cagier than 29 other NBA teams, really, and it's not even close.

Leading of the Daily Dime, John Hollinger chronicles how Garnett lead the Celtics to victory:

Atlanta led 72-66 with 6:48 left and seemed poised to pull away before Garnett took over. He did it, unusually, by going to the low post -- an area in which he's rarely been seen lately. He started by scoring on the block against Josh Smith while drawing a foul, then stepped out and hit a jumper from his familiar perch at the top of the key. On his next post-up he dropped in a perfect pass to a cutting Rondo for the lead, completing an 8-0 Boston run to put the Celtics ahead.

He wasn't done. Garnett fed Perkins for a basket and a foul, and got so amped up he slapped Perkins in the chest four times while yelling encouragement (or whatever it is KG yells out there). And after Atlanta briefly regained the momentum courtesy of a vicious Smith cradle-and-cram over Perkins, Garnett re-established order by scoring on three of the next four trips.

But the final two buckets were the most impressive. With 1:38 left, the Celtics had the ball with the shot clock winding down. Rondo dribbled through the lane and came out the other side without an opening for himself or a teammate, leaving him marooned at the top of the key with five showing on the clock. Garnett was battling Al Horford in the post and commanded Rondo to give him a lob.

"I read his lips and he told me to throw it," Rondo said. "Usually it's eye contact, but this time he said, 'Throw it.'"

Garnett took the lob and slammed it home to give Boston a temporary lead. He followed that up on a post-up bucket with 30.8 seconds left, making a difficult hook shot in the lane to put the Celtics ahead for good.

Charley Rosen breaks down the Hawks' strengths and weaknesses in detail.

CoCo takes up a defense of Josh Smith at The Vent:

Do we want Josh out there jacking up shots outside of 12-15 feet? No, but it's going to happen from time to time. The problem I see is that fans seem to only have a problem when Josh takes a bad shot. No one says anything when Flip is out there shooting at will. Everyone just accepts that this is what Flip does. What's that about?

At Braves & Birds, Michael concludes that the difference between the Hawks and the Celtics is Mike Bibby, defender:

If you asked me for the major difference between the Hawks and the Celtics 25 games into the season after the teams have played two very tight games, I'd have to say it's Mike Bibby. The Celtics don't have a defensive weakness on their team. The closest they come is Ray Allen and he's not exactly a bad defender. Of the ten starters on the two teams, Bibby is by far the worst defender. Normally, the Hawks can hide him on Rajon Rondo, but last night, when the Celtics needed a basket, they ran a screen up top for Pierce to get Bibby on him. In contrast, there are no weak defenders on the Celtics for the Hawks to target using ball screens.

All in all both a good effort and a tough loss. If Mike Woodson can refrain from getting bamboozled (I don't want to see any four guard lineups even if that's the only way Acie Law is likely to get on the floor.) by Don Nelson on Friday night, the Golden State Warriors (2nd in the league in pace, 29th in defensive efficiency) should provide the perfect opportunity to bounce back.

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