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Celtics 103 Hawks 102

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Boxscore

Gameflow

Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 91.3 1.12 55.1 39.7 15.2 16.4
BOS 91.3 1.13 45.4 44.7 35.7 16.4

I'm not sure I remember how to write one of these when the Hawks lose...

Little to be down about as the Hawks almost stole one in Boston without Josh Smith and, for the second half, Zaza Pachulia. Full credit to Paul Pierce for making the difficult game-winner as well as for getting all those easy buckets in the final three quarters that made the game-winner possible. Factor in that Pierce may not have been the best player the Celtics had on the floor last night (Garnett: 25 points on 10-16 shooting, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, and just 1 turnover) and you can safely situate yourself somewhere between settling for a moral victory and not getting worked into a lather over a loss.

That the short-handed Hawks were in the game despite sending the Celtics to the line at least 9 times every quarter and surrendering 35.7% of all possible Celtic offensive rebounds is a tribute to their defensive performance (at least until the first field goal attempt of a Boston possession was launched) and outstanding three-point shooting from Marvin Williams, Maurice Evans, and Flip Murray*.

*Mike Bibby made both of his three-point attempts but that's not as exceptional given his role on the team.

This Hawks team, through seven games, is really quite extraordinary. Last year's team offered inconsistent effort and no threat from beyond the arc. This year's team has played hard for 336 straight minutes and uses the three-point shot as a serious offensive weapon. They will almost certainly fail to maintain their 42.4% mark from behind the line (and their opponents will almost certainly improve upon their 28.3% three-point shooting) but they've fundamentally diversified their offense in a way that takes advantage of the skills of their three best players: Joe Johnson, Smith, and Al Horford. Once Smith and Pachulia return and (presumably) shore up the rebounding on the both ends of the court, the Hawks won't need to shoot this well from beyond the arc. Just by taking the extra shots they earn from three-point range will pay off presuming they make them at even a slightly above-average rate.

Thoughts I failed to fit in the above but still feel are worth mentioning:

  • Al Horford sat for 20:47 of the first half because he had two fouls. Though both his second and fourth fouls could accurately be described as "dumb," he finished the game with five fouls. I obviously don't know if it would have made a difference had his minutes been distributed in a way that allowed him to play until he fouled out but I really think it's a waste to keep your best post player on the bench for a long time because you're concerned about something that might or might not happen. Especially when you begin the game with a short-handed post rotation and finish the game so depleted that both Marvin Williams and Maurice Evans play stretches of the fourth quarter at power forward.
  • Randolph Morris's 4 minutes last night may be the best thing that has ever happened to Othello Hunter's NBA career.
  • Flip Murray should be an option in the fourth quarter rather than a guy you shoehorn into lineups at the expense of better players who are also playing better that night.
  • Mario West's 2 possession (1 for them, 1 for us) performance to close the first quarter redeemed Woodson's usage pattern. For one night, at least.
  • I think it's a fair opinion, should anyone air it, that the Hawks were only in position to go ahead in the final 10 seconds because Ray Allen missed a lot of open three-pointers.
  • I'm not proud of the part of me that wanted to see Solomon Jones and Kendrick Perkins get in a tussle, but I must acknowledge that it exists.

Mike Woodson:

"I think we've grown a lot since last season, thanks to the Celtics. They put us in that mode, that frame of mind, that you've got to come out every night and dig in and play.''

Garnett, on the final play:

"The last play was drawn up: Get the ball to Pierce; get the hell out the way. Superman's in the booth. Let's go home. That was the play, and if you don't believe that ask Doc Rivers and he'll say the same exact thing.''

Pierce:

"I sort of got to my sweet spot and I felt good the whole time. We're playing a lot of playoff teams early, so it's good for us to get close games. ... We're learning from them.''

Woodson again:

"A great player hit a great shot. I hate for the game to end - not like that. That game was played beautifully on both ends of the floor, by both teams, and they made a great play at the end.''

Al Horford's not down following the loss:

"Our team swagger is really high right now. We just want to play the game the right way, let people know we're serious.''

Kendrick Perkins continues his charm offensive:

"When Marvin Williams hit that shot in the corner, I could tell that (Pierce) was mad. I saw them dancing out there. They thought it was over. But the Big Three is never over."

Lucky for you that you get to ride their coattails, I guess.

The combined offensive efficiency last night made Doc Rivers uncomfortable:

"It was frustrating just trying to get a stop. You’ve got two of the top four defensive teams in the league, and on every possession the other team kept scoring. That’s frustrating for a coach. Then you get up by three or four, and they make a 3. I mean, they made amazing shots. For fans, it was fun."

Woodson said he received a report on Josh Smith after Tuesday’s win in Chicago, and the news was good.

"They said the swelling finally started to go down and got some color back in his ankle," Woodson said. "So right now he’s just day-to-day, and we’ll see where he is when we get back from this road trip."

Smith suffered a high left ankle sprain in the first quarter of Friday’s win over Toronto and was expected to be out two to four weeks. While Woodson didn’t rule out a quick return, he insists Smith won’t be rushed back to action.

  • This Rotoworld note from mid-game is the sum total of information I can find this morning regarding Zaza Pachulia's injury.
  • Kelly Dwyer leads off this morning's Behind the Boxscore with the Hawks/Celtics game. Go read it in full. Scroll past the pic quickly, though.
  • Chris Sheridan is a believer:

After a 6-0 start, this night showed that the Hawks, who were blown out in this building four times during their seven-game playoff series against Boston last spring, are no fluke. This was their second game of a back-to-back set on the road, they were without Josh Smith, and did not have Zaza Pachulia for the second half after he injured his shoulder. What's more, this was the sixth quality opponent the Hawks had faced in their first seven games, they entered with the league's fourth-best defense, and they handled themselves with considerable and admirable aplomb -- a character trait they simply did not possess last postseason when they were an entirely different team on the road than they were at home.

Heck, the Hawks lacked aplomb plenty of times at home last season.

I'm digging Dominique Wilkins as the color guy. 'Nique could burp Le Marseillaise for an entire broadcast and I, like most Hawks fans, would enjoy it thoroughly. Being the best player in franchise history will give a guy that status. That said, his insights on the game are quite sharp. My concern about 'Nique calling games is that he is an executive with the Hawks, so he might be reticent to criticize the players or coaches. That hasn't been the case. For instance, he gently chided Woodson by expressing surprise that he did not bring Horford back in the game late in the second quarter. 'Nique noticed Allen's defensive miscue to free Williams for the go-ahead shot, after which I said to myself "so that's what a color guy is supposed to do."

"The Hawks have been playing really well and we knew it was going to be a tough game. We watched them on film, how hard they play, they're one of the best defensive teams this year, and they have a lot of talent."

I think they do. Friday at and Saturday versus the Nets. I can't wait.