The Atlanta Hawks missed out on an opportunity to take a 2-0 lead in their best of seven series with the Boston Celtics who were without Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Despite holding an 11 point lead with three minutes to go in the third quarter the Hawks fell 87-80 losing their home court advantage in the process.
This game had a really familiar feel to it as all of the games with the Celtics this season have. Both teams got off to a decent enough start and battled to a 24-24 tie at the end of the first quarter. Atlanta fell behind early in the second but rallied to take a three point lead into halftime.
The third quarter was a mixed bag where at one point the Hawks looked like they might just put Boston away and coast home to an easy win. What actually happened however was that Atlanta led by as many as 11 points with three minutes to go but saw Boston finish the quarter with a 7-1 run that cut the Hawks' lead to just 66-61 entering the fourth.
That run grew to 12-1 as Boston tied the score 66-66 and all of the momentum the Hawks had built up disappeared for good. It wasn't a coincidence that Boston's run coincided with Atlanta's offense once again disappearing under the Celtics' pressure defense. The Hawks didn't exactly help themselves in regards to their offense by going with most of the second unit against 3/5 of Boston's starters.
Atlanta began the fourth quarter with Kirk Hinrich and Willie Green at the guards, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams at the forwards with Ivan Johnson at center. Tracy McGrady subbed for Smith at the 11:13 mark and Jason Collins followed for Johnson at 10:22. Doc Rivers played Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Avery Bradley the entire fourth quarter.
By the time Smith, Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague returned the lead was down to 66-64. Its fair to point out that Atlanta began losing the momentum at the end of the third with the starters on the floor but I also think it is rather apparent that the Hawks bench isn't going to do well most nights against other team's starters. By this point Paul Pierce and the Celtics were rolling and Atlanta was having a difficult time just getting a quality shot attempt on the offensive end.
Josh Smith checked out at the 4:20 mark of the fourth quarter and headed to the locker room with a knee injury and would not return. It looked like Smith might of hurt the knee on a drive to the basket with the Hawks trailing by two. He then looked like he aggravated it while trying to block out Kevin Garnett. Without Smith on the floor Boston's defense swarmed Joe Johnson and the Hawks had little to no answer.
Johnson led the Hawks with 22 points and five assists while going 7 of 17 from the floor but just 3 for 10 after halftime. Jeff Teague added 18 points and had flashes of brilliance but seemed to disappear late like the rest of the Hawks. Teague finished 6 of 18 from the floor and I never would have thought that until I looked at the box score.
Josh Smith left the game with 16 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. He played well and was a one man gang on the boards for the Hawks. Atlanta could have used him in the post more in the second half especially in the final moments of the game. The Hawks shot just 35 percent from the floor and were out rebounded 45-40.
Paul Pierce came up huge for the Celtics finishing with 36 points and 14 rebounds in over 44 minutes of action. Kevin Garnett added 15 points and 12 boards while Avery Bradley chipped in 14. Brandon Bass added eight and Keyon Dooling hit two big threes in the second half to finish with six. Boston shot 43 percent from the floor despite being outscored 42-26 in the paint by Atlanta.
Another quick look at the minutes played in this game reveals that Larry Drew shortened the rotation somewhat from Game 1 to Game 2. Jannero Pargo played just four minutes in Game 2 and Tracy McGrady just over five. Atlanta still only had one player go over 40 for the game and that was Jeff Teague who played 42.
Boston played Paul Pierce the entire second half while Garnett and Bradley played the entire fourth. That signals that one team knew that it had its back against the wall without its best player and went for it in the second half. The Hawks played this more like a regular season game and certainly not like they had two days off in between Game 3.
I thought Larry Drew did an excellent job of protecting his starters minutes this season and the point of that was to have them be fresh for the playoffs. The playoffs are here and I don't mind seeing those guys out there for 42-44 minutes a night if the situation calls for it. They have entire off season to rest because this is money time. With the Bulls losing Derrick Rose and the potential return of Zaza Pachulia and maybe Al Horford the door is as much open for the Hawks as ever to finally crash the Eastern Conference Finals.
Of course the injury to Josh Smith could make all of that moot point. We will have an update on his status as soon as more info is available.