"We still feel we're the better team," said an exhausted Paul Pierce, who like the rest of a closing unit that included Glen Davis, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins, played the last 19 minutes without a substitution by associate coach Tom Thibodeau, who took over for Rivers.
"The year we won the (2008) championship, we lost four times to Washington. It definitely bothered us, but we're a better team, and it will show."
Perkins seconded that emotion.
"It's not like I fear them," he said. "I don't think anyone on this team fears them. They look at us like a rival, but I don't think we look at them as a rivalry team."
Naturally, one less cup of coffee was needed this morning. As a Celtics hater and Hawks fan, these quotes naturally get the blood boiling. But if I was to put my objective hat on for just a second, I think these post game remarks might say a thing or two about both teams. Things that don't involve homerism and emotion and all that stuff makes blogs fun but fluffy.
On the one hand, Perkins is right. The Hawks play different against the Celtics. They refuse to give up in circumstances they normally say "to hell with it." They hit shots we the fans normally say "to hell with it." There is a focus that is rarely see in the other 33 games this season. Call it a rivalry or call it good basketball, but the point is, the Hawks can't think it is ok to play this way only against teams the deem as measuring sticks. The great teams treat every game like a rivalry.
Which leads me back to Paul Pierce. He may be speaking his true feelings. He probably does think the Hawks are a worse team, but during the championship year, losses were not shrugged off with a wait until the playoffs eye roll. Every game mattered. Every game was a rivalry. KG made it so, and it showed. The Celtics ain't there emotionally anymore.
I will be the first to admit I sometimes fling praises or insults on Joe Johnson simply depending on whether he hits the shots. It is lazy fandom, but sometimes hard to avoid. Just listen to Nique, every shot Joe takes is a tough shot, and tough shots are only good shots if they go in.
Still, despite the fact that last nights shot chart looked just as inditing both in the number of dots and where they were, it felt different. From the first make where Joe rhythmically drilled a three pointer, it was clear Joe was on tonight. And even those fourth quarter shots looked less pressed and more authoritatively swished. These were not floaters bouncing around the rim as I prayed to the television for them to go in against four defenders. They were rise up jumpers that were never in doubt.
Joe was assisted on 57% of his makes. Only Josh Smith had a higher percentage. For Joe, that included all three of his makes at the basket. If someone is getting assists for Joe's shots at the rim, we got movement without the basketball ladies and gentleman.
In the end, I know when something is wrong, and sometimes even when it is wrong Joe "freaking" Johnson comes to play and makes it right. But last night was not one of those times. Last night was good basketball. It was taking advantage of a match up and a hot hand.
And whether Boston fears the Hawks or not, they should at least watch some film on Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson because their non worried defense has not quite done the trick.