With Thabo Sefolosha back, the Atlanta Hawks were looking to make some serious waves this post-season. There weren’t any record-breaking performances this year or instances of an entire starting-five winning ‘player of the month’ (like last season), but they still managed to nab the #4 seed in the Eastern Conference. With the Celtics at the #5 spot, Atlanta has the home court advantage in this round. But for those who remember last season, home court for the Hawks proved to have little value (Cleveland swept them in four games).
With a near 20-pt lead before halftime, everyone in Philips Arena felt they had the game all but wrapped up. But unlike the regular season, this is the NBA Playoffs, and anything can happen at any given time. With that, Boston managed to climb all the way back about mid-way through the 4th quarter and we had ourselves a ball game.
The Boston Celtics’ big names earned their keep when it mattered late in the second half. Isaiah Thomas had 27 points with 7 assists, Marcus Smart notched 15 points, and the key plays of Avery Bradley and his 18 points made a difference. Celtics fans held their breath as they watched Bradley pull up in the 4th Quarter with a hamstring injury. An injury so severe, that Bradley couldn’t make it to the sideline before collapsing to the floor.
With Bradley having to leave the game, Atlanta faithful saw the advantage and thought they could close out. The last 45 seconds of this game would show the fight and resolve in the young Celtics squad. As the Hawks were trying to close out the game, Jared Sullinger came up clutch with a long distance 3-pointer. The Hawks again tried to close out but Thomas sprinted down the floor and he too nailed a 3-pointer. With 0.4 seconds left the score was ATL 102, BOS 101, and luckily a last second heave from Smart was waved off (had he made it, you’d see highlights all over the internet because of the distance).
Al Horford led the Hawks with 24 points and 12 rebounds, alongside 23 point performances from Kent Bazemore and Jeff Teague.
To put it lightly, the Hawks didn’t dodge a bullet, they dodged a missile. An old wise man once said, “How you start is how you finish.” This game shouldn’t have been a contest, period. With the way the Hawks gelled the first half, there is no way in the world they should’ve beat the Celtics by a single point. But if there’s anything that was learned tonight, you will respect the Celtics. Isaiah Thomas is a monster and it’s clear that he and Marcus Smart are going to be a problem for Atlanta this series. People forget how this rivalry was formed not too long ago with the Za Za/Garnett head-butt and drawing each other in back to back seasons.
In short, get your popcorn ready for Game 2 on Tuesday.
Photo: Hakim Wright