It wasn't REALLY a Playoff game....

...it just felt like it.  I'm still feeling the effects of last night's bone rattling defeat to the Atlanta Hawks (again!). In what was easily the most exciting game between these two teams this season, the Celtics once again stumbled in the final minutes while Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson took charge for the Hawks. Regardless of it still being early in January, last night's bout had all the ingredients for a playoff game.

HEROES: For the Celtics, the usual suspects didn't step up late when the team needed it most. Even though the ball found Ray Allen's hands, it couldn't find the net when it was leaving them. Ray missed a pivotal three-pointer from the left corner with two minutes left and then a free throw line jumper with 1:21 to play. Both were quality shots, but unfortunately they just didn't drop.

Credit Glen Davis for finding a late groove, though. He buried a short fade away with 6:23 to go and followed it up with Boston's final points of the night with 2:34 to play on an old school three-point play.

Shout out to Brian Scalabrine for coming through with his best performance of the season and arguably the best performance of his entire career with the Celtics. 3-3 shooting three-pointers, 9 points, 5 rebounds, an assist and some impressive defense on Josh Smith. Scal's been terribly inconsistent, but he came through in a big way last night in a very hyped up game. He didn't play at all in the fourth quarter, and while he probably wouldn't have been too much of a difference maker, when a guy's having a game like Scal was having, sometimes you should just keep playing him.

(video highlights follow at the bottom of this article...if you want to watch that again...)

For the Hawks, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford are steadily turning into the NBA's most dangerous two-man tandem. As Doc Rivers pointed out in the post game press conference, they're two guys who can score late in the game without needing a play being drawn up for them. They just need the ball. Johnson's 36 points kind of flew under the radar until his three-pointer with 4:25 to play, which gave Atlanta a 92-91 lead at the time. Then, he buried that ridiculous fade away jumper with 3:09 left while falling backwards into the Celtics' bench to cap his glorious night off.

Not even the Celtics going Box-And-One with Paul Pierce attempting to smother Crawford ended up stopping his offensive onslaught. Even when he wasn't scoring, he was finding ways to make plays, like his dish to Josh Smith in transition with 2:47 left to put Atlanta up 96-93. But when he did decide to take matters into his own hands, he was more than capable. His two buckets and two free throws in the final two and a half minutes were the hurdles the Celtics couldn't overcome.

VILLAINS: So many choices, so little space to write. Mike Bibby was booed an awful lot last night, but his impact on the game was actually quite minimal (5 points, 2 assists, benched in crunch time). Zaza Pachulia ripped Kendrick Perkins to the floor by his nostrils with 2:57 left in the first quarter, so he's certainly a worthy candidate. Marvin Williams was at the center of the Glen Davis flagrant foul with 6:16 left in the third quarter and on top of that he scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds, so he's certainly making a case for himself.

The officials didn't appear to do the Celtics any favors once the game surpassed their level of control. My only beef with the officials is that Glen Davis really didn't appear to be yanking Williams down on purpose. To me, for a flagrant foul to be called (and they're handed out far too easily these days), it really needs to seem like the guy committing the foul is hitting his opponent with the surefire intent of bringing him down to the floor and believe it or not, it's pretty noticeable when that's happening. Davis really didn't seem like he was trying to knock Williams on his kisser and on top of that, he actually tried to hold him up as they both made their way towards the floor. It was not a malicious act and in this writer's humble opinion, did not warrant a flagrant foul. If you look at Zaza and his history with the Celtics, then it's pretty clear that his was a flagrant foul.

Unfortunately, as has been the case with the matchup between these two teams this season, the Celtics were their own worst enemy once again. The Celtics have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot late in games against the Hawks this season, and their inability to score with 2:34 left in the game is the first travesty that sticks out and on top of that, they couldn't find a way to stop Crawford after that same juncture. He scored Atlanta's final six points, and while he deserves some credit for being such a prolific offensive player, if the Celtics are going to hang their hat on defense this season, they need to hold themselves accountable for not getting the necessary stops late in a ball game.

The other issue: Rondo had 24 points and 7 assists heading into the fourth quarter and finished the game with 26 points and 7 assists. Paul Pierce entered the final frame with 19 points and 5 rebounds and 4 assists. His final numbers: 19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists. Ray Allen had 13 points with a quarter to play and finished the night with just three points more. It was just one of those quarters for those guys.

ATMOSPHERE: Has the TD Garden been louder this entire season? I think the last time the decibel level was that high the Celtics were battling back against the Orlando Magic in last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals. Regardless, I applaud the effort and intensity and desire of the fans at the Garden last night. They wanted it as much as we at home did. They appropriately booed the ineffective Mike Bibby every time he had the ball, they reacted perfectly to Zaza ripping Perk to the floor and they applauded and cheered for Doc as he made his way to the locker room after being ejected. Whether or not Doc was right for getting tossed, you've got to love the support. And I give a tip of my hat to the fan who was apparently participating in a Q&A session during a timeout and yelled into the microphone, "That last call was terrible!"

BREAKING POINT: Should Doc have been ejected in the third quarter? Probably not. Sometimes coaches try and get themselves thrown out in an effort to spark their team, but the Celtics didn't need a spark at that point in the game (they were up 10 points when the whole incident went down), which leads me to believe he was just protesting the call like he would have many others. He was probably a little bit more angry than usual, but I doubt he was thinking, "I'm going to purposely get myself tossed right now."

I'm not a professional lip reader, nor do I play one on TV, but it looked to me like the worst thing Doc said language wise was, "Awful call!" He didn't appear to be engaging in a profanity-laced tirade that might have warranted a quicker ejection. Doc was thrown out before the television replay could even be completed. The refs probably just thought they had to get things under control (meaning things weren't under control when the incident initially took place), which is why they were also so quick to assess Armond Hill with a tech shortly after Doc was kicked out. There was no way they were going to allow any more language or protest to stray from either bench, for fear of furthering the animosity of the situation.

QUIET POSITIVES: In the grand scheme of things, with the exception of possibly helping to determine who gets home court advantage in the postseason, this game meant very little. Do the Hawks gain some more confidence over the Celtics? Probably. But they never feared the Celtics in the first place after the playoff series two years ago, so what's a little more confidence actually going to do for them? Do the Celtics feel like they can't beat the Hawks now? I seriously doubt it. These haven't been blowouts by any stretch of the imagination, which is why I firmly believe the Hawks still do not "have the Celtics' number". If Atlanta had legitimately spanked Boston in all three meetings thus far, then yes, you could throw that phrase out there. But the Celtics have had legitimate chances to win all three of the games these two teams have played, and it's arguably as much the Celtics' own fault that they've lost these games, as much as it is Atlanta's fault that they've won them.

Midway through the fourth quarter the most that was up for grabs was bragging rights for the winner who could then say, "We won an awesome basketball game tonight." That's about it.

The other quiet positive: Rasheed Wallace NOT playing in tonight's game. Seriously. Look at how much scrutiny the officials were under tonight. Would Rasheed's presence have helped the matter in any way, shape or form? Most likely not. Chances are he'd have probably gotten tossed out with Doc, if not sooner. As much as it hurts losing 'Sheed up to a week with his left foot issue, he very well could have been facing a suspension today had he taken part in last night's contest.

So fret not. It was one game on an 82-game schedule. Was it an exciting game? Of course. Was it fun to watch? You bet. Was it Game 7 of a playoff series? It might have felt like it, but it wasn't. It doesn't mean much. It pretty much just stings right now because we all wanted to win what was a very competitive and intense basketball game against a talented, yet hated opponent.  Here is Perk's take:

"It shouldn't concern you, it's not like I'm fearing them," said Kendrick Perkins. "Like if we had to get up with them in the playoffs it's not like ‘oh we got the Hawks' or something like that, you know they beat us three times so hats off to them, but I don't fear them I don't think nobody on our team fears them but I think that's the problem. I think they think we're their rivalry but we don't think they're our rivalry."

You want some more good news? We play the Nets tomorrow night. Feast on that fact while you recover from last night's bitter ending.

Video highlights from last night:


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