As much as I don't like the Celtics needless trash talking, some of their fans, or Nate Robinson in any form or fashion, you can not deny the job that this team and its coach Doc Rivers does at both ends of the floor. They run their system as well as any team in the league. What strikes me most impressively is that they can even without Rajon Rondo, who is arguably their MVP, get any shot they want when they need it by simply executing their system. Time and time again particularly at the start of the third quarter, the Celtics got Ray Allen looks simply off of execution. If it wasn't Ray Allen then it was Glen Davis with a wide open 15 footer that was set up perfectly. If in the event a miss did occur their was always a Celtic in perfect position to grab an offensive rebound.
I have to admit I wrote this Celtics team off this season just as I did last season. I thought they were too old and that injuries would ultimately cost them a spot in the top three teams of the Eastern Conference. They are injured now and still winning and perhaps they are even better than last year's Finals team. Enough can't be said for the job Doc Rivers has done as he has taken a selfish malcontent in Nate Robinson and actually made him into a useful piece for the Celtics. Yet it is defined roles and simple execution that set them apart and should be a blue print to every other aspiring team in the league. Of course it does help to have three future Hall of Fame players on the roster as well.
Tonight, execution was the biggest difference in the Hawks and Celtics. If coming into the game I had told you that Josh Smith and Al Horford would finish the game with a combined nine points on 4-15 shooting you likely would have expected a repeat of the blow out in Atlanta. Yet still the Hawks were within striking distance down the stretch. They just simply couldn't execute when they needed to.
Marvin Williams turned in one of his best performances of the season and Jeff Teague one of the best of his career for the Hawks. Williams scored 26 points on 9-15 shooting, got to the line nine times where he made seven, and essentially carried the Hawks offensively. Jeff Teague used the Jamal Crawford injury to his advantage and came in aggressive in scoring 18 points on 8-11 shooting including three dunks in the first half. He displayed an array of floaters in the lane and despite turning the ball over a few times in the second half, was on the court alongside Mike Bibby down the stretch in the fourth.
Coach Drew commented before the game that the Celtics had struggled the night before in defending the Knicks pick and roll. Therefore I went in expecting to see a lot of pick and roll and pick and pop from the Hawks tonight. The Hawks used it effectively for stretches Jeff Teague and Josh Powell working the pick and pop well in the second quarter. The problem lies in that once Boston made defensive adjustments down the stretch, it seemed that the Hawks struggled to adjust as well. I would have liked to have seen the Hawks go to the motion game a little more down the stretch and perhaps that was why Teague and Bibby were on the floor together at the end as Mike usually has more success initiating the offense.
Al Horford was saddled with two fouls early and sat out much of the first half of the game. Critics are going to bash that strategy but once again I will say that I understand the thinking even though I don't necessarily agree with it. The Hawks were leading late in the first half before a late 6-0 spurt by the Celtics put them ahead at the intermission. The thinking there by Drew was just to by time with Horford on the bench and not let him pick up that third if he didn't have to in the first half. Some will say perhaps the Celtics don't take the momentum headed into the locker room if Horford is on the floor at the end. Maybe they would be right. The hurtful part is when you look at the final box score and see that Horford only played 26 minutes and only attempted seven shots. The Hawks needed more from him on this night particularly with the struggles of Josh Smith.
Which brings us to Josh. In two games versus Boston this season Smith has totaled three points going an unbelievable 0-11 from the field. Not a tip in, not a dunk, nothing. He has grabbed seven rebounds in those two contests combined in 46 total minutes of action. That is no where close to the production that the Hawks nor Josh Smith expect out of him. I thought he was active defensively maybe even gambled too much at times but he looked to be engaged in the game. One thing I have noticed of late is that Atlanta needs Josh to pick it up on the boards as he has topped four rebounds only once in his last five games.
If you are looking for a silver lining then I guess you can take Jeff Teague's play and the fact that the Hawks were in this one late despite Al Horford and Josh Smith being non-factors as a good thing. However, I don't think we are at the point of the season where moral victories are acceptable. A loss is a loss and currently Atlanta is sliding downward in the standings of the Eastern Conference. Chalk tonight up as yet another missed opportunity where the team didn't execute or didn't trust the system coming down the stretch.