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Young Hawks Show Grit, Immaturity

horford.jpg The Hawks inspired game 3 victory Saturday night was a wire-to-wire wake up call. Back to earth Celtics fans, the playoffs are about attitude as much as attrition….for one game at least.

The Hawks, fueled by their home court crowd, came out swinging and didn’t let up until the final buzzer sounded the victory. Atlanta certainly utilized their transition game more effectively, but it was in the half court where they most impressed.

The Hawks shot a not-to-be-duplicated 10-18 from 3-point land and improved their overall shooting percentage considerably, hitting at a 47% clip overall. Atlanta spend most of the 2nd half operating at a more Celtic-like pace, but their vast improvement in ball-movement and utilization of the pick-and-pop game kept Boston off-balance all evening.

Team Captain Joe Johnson was strong in utilizing the corners of the court to initiate much of Atlanta’s offense. By sucking Boston’s defenders to one corner of the court and utilizing ball swings to create space on the court, Johnson was able to free himself up for kick outs and quick dribble penetration.

Read more... Johnson wasn’t the only one getting off the mat for game 3. Mike Bibby bounced back with a solid performance and really helped to keep the ball moving with smart passes and timely shot selection. The backcourt combination led the Hawks to an other-worldly 28 assists on 36 made baskets, giving the Celtics a taste of their own medicine.

Boston, on the other hand,  looked extremely lethargic on the offensive end. While their assist-to-turnover ratio was solid overall, Boston didn’t generate the volume of easy baskets it’s accustom to, rarely getting substantial penetration in the paint.

Doc Rivers summed it up best when he stated post-game that his players "tried to win on their own." There was far too much dribbling and not enough foot-action to force the Hawks defenders to move around.

Now the good news…

In the midst of celebrating their "shock the world" moment down in the ATL, the Hawks proceeded to seriously annoy the Celtics veterans with their over-celebratory behavior. While it’s understandable that Atlanta would be excited to win its first playoff game in almost a decade, they went a little too far.

Rookie Al Horford may have just cost his team any shot at game 4 with his demonstrative finger pointing and smack-talk display in the waning moments of game 3. As well as he and his Hawks played, it was unwise for him to give Boston any extra motivation. The Atlanta fans were getting into it with Pierce previous to that play and the Hawks excessive celebration, understandable as it may be, will surely be used as motivation going into Monday.

Make no mistake about it; Boston is the superior team in every facet of the game. The regular season consistency and two-way dominance of the Boston squad didn’t suddenly evaporate overnight. But after 8 consecutive quarters of non-competitive basketball, its hard to fault the Celtics players for forgetting what real competition was.

So great was Atlanta’s turnaround in play between games 2 and 3, that the Celtics simply had no way to prepare effectively for it. It was as if the Hawks had suddenly learned how to play basketball again. Boston, lulled into a veritable coma by Atlanta’s poor play, were blind-sided by the effort and execution the Hawks displayed.

Hats off to the Hawks for showing that they belonged in the playoffs after all. Boston wouldn’t have benefitted in the long run from such an easy first round series. The playoffs are SUPPOSE to be about tough competition and games coming down to the wire. If Boston has title hopes this season they’re going to be playing close games and expected to pull out the possessions needed to win the day.

The Hawks have done the Celtics a tremendous favor. By joining the playoff party and at the same time insulting the Celtics pride, Atlanta has helped to re-sharpen the focus of the home town team. A quick sweep would have left Boston ill-prepared for a step up in competition going into round two.

While the game 3 loss may have been shocking to the Celtic faithful, it may very well be the medicine this team needs to send the Hawks packing and propel it past round one.

Celtics fans shouldn’t expect to be "shocked" again…unless you’re not familiar with this team’s resiliency and tendency to send messages to those who bark to loud…

…these Celtics have a tendency to bite when cornered…

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