BOSTON, MA - MAY 04: Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks works his way to the basket against Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 4, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Not many people gave the Hawks much of a chance for a victory in Game 3 of their first-round series with the Boston Celtics. Can't really blame the prognosticators given that Atlanta was down its top 3 front court options in Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford. However, there they were once again at crunch time with a chance to pull out a victory.
However, there is little time at this point in the season for moral victories not that this Hawks team is deserving of such at any rate. This team has long since moved past being the squad that hung their heads in four blow out losses to the Orlando Magic. What does remain for this team is to prove that they can grind it out with a quality playoff opponent and capture a win especially on the road.
A few thoughts from Game 3 begins with rebounding. Atlanta more than held their own with Boston on the backboard with the Celtics holding a 51-48 edge. Its no coincidence in my mind that whichever team that has won the rebounding battle has won the game. Its important to remember that Boston was dead last in the league in rebounding entering the series but the Hawks depleted front court situation has negated that somewhat. I am impressed with the team effort Atlanta put up on the boards last night but they are going to have to find a way to be just a bit better.
Execution wise the Hawks did better in Game 3 at crunch time than they had in either of the first two games in the series. Joe Johnson made better decisions with the basketball on whether or not to attack quickly or to move the ball. No doubt having Tracy McGrady on the floor late helped in that department. Without Josh Smith on the floor the ball Teague's hands a lot more late and that isn't a bad thing either. For the Hawks at crunch time it is about making better decisions and again they were better, still not quite good enough, but a step in the right direction.
Substitution patterns changed again a little bit as Larry Drew rode Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague for the balance of the second half. The Hawks got some surprising 22 minutes from Erick Dampier who looked shockingly serviceable while scoring six points and grabbing six rebounds. He ended up playing more than Jason Collins who finished with four points and three rebounds but also four turnovers. One peculiar thing was no Kirk Hinrich or Ivan Johnson in the fourth quarter or overtime.
From afar it appeared that Drew opted to go with offense in Willie Green but size with Collins and Dampier who were frankly exhausted. So exhausted that it led to several uncontested layups at the rim when neither of the bigs were able to recover. Hinrich would have likely been a better defensive matchup against Rajon Rondo than either Green or Jannero Pargo but this is after the fact coaching and I am not going to get too upset about it. Johnson hasn't exactly played well in the series but I am a lot more confident in him producing something positive than I am either of the other two options.
Drew answered the cat calls after Game 2 by riding Johnson and Teague along with McGrady in Game 3. He really had little choice given the circumstances without Josh Smith. The question is whether or not he will do the same in Game 4 if he has more available options.
Its important to note that T-Mac had a solid contribution playing 40+ minutes while scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds. I had little hope of him playing in the second half after watching him fall to the ground with an ankle injury before the half. He did come back and although he did tire late his calming influence and directing of the offense is a wrinkle that Drew probably should explore given the Hawks' struggles at execution late against the Celtics. That is assuming that his ankle and his weary body will allow him to play anymore in this series after logging those 40+ minutes in Game 3.