BOSTON - Paul Millsap had a historic night, but it was Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart who stole the show in the Celtics remarkable overtime win. Thomas finished with 28 points, nine of which came in the final ten minutes of play.
The Celtics were in a frantic dogfight with the Hawks until Isaiah's dagger three from the far right corner with 30 seconds left iced the game. Thomas would come back down the next play to an thunderous echo of "MVP" chants as he drained the final two free throws to clinch a 104-95 win for the Celtics.
After a clutch Jeff Teague three with 20 seconds left in regulation, it looked like the Celtics were facing perhaps their last play in the Garden this season.
But Isaiah Thomas came around a pick-and-roll with 17 seconds left and found himself driving straight at Al Horford and Kent Bazemore. As they leaped straight up, Thomas leaped between them like a drunk Harvard student diving into a departing Red Line train. As Thomas threw up his trademark lefty finger roll, the Hawks' biggest chance to bury the Celtics in this series was ruined.
The Hawks had ample time to respond, but ran a curiously delayed play as Jeff Teague ran the clock down to five seconds.
Kyle Korver cut across the defense and faked a cross-screen, which Isaiah Thomas sidestepped to stick with Teague. Teague, seemingly flabbergasted that he still had a defender in front of him, panicked and was blocked by Thomas 30-feet out. The Celtics blitzed the Hawks in overtime, finding Amir Johnson first on a well-executed pick-and-roll and then alone under the basket on a broken transition play.
SMART v TRILLSAP: A DAVID & GOLIATH FOR THE AGES
Paul Millsap became the third player in the last 30 years to score 45 points, grab 13 boards and reject four shots in a playoff game, joining Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal. But the Celtics finally got the late game dominance from Marcus Smart they had been waiting for. Smart scored 7 points in a row for the Celtics in the late fourth quarter as the Hawks looked to be holding control.
In an incredible twist, Stevens put Smart on Millsap, who held up strong and became the first player on the roster to hold Millsap in check in Game 4. He made post catches difficult and didn't allow Millsap to put the ball on the floor comfortably.
"Coach was like, 'You know what, we got to try something new,'" Smart said. "And he looked, turned at me and said, 'Marcus, guard him.' And that's all he said. I just kind of looked like, 'Okay.'"
Millsap fights for position on the low block, but Smart grinds him down and fronts him. This forces Millsap to reset the post-up from five feet further and makes him use a faceup drive. Smart stays in front of him and contests the shot perfectly to force the miss.
"I'm trying to push the catch out and make his moves and everything real difficult," Smart said. "Just kind of get as low as I can and just kind of work him."
Smart guarded Millsap for the final 14 minutes of the game and held Millsap to 1-for-5 shooting while defending his shots.
"You give Marcus Smart an assignment, he's probably going to get it done, no matter who he is playing against," Isaiah Thomas said. "He's a hell of a competitor and you need lots of guys like that to win in the playoffs. He played an unbelievable game tonight."
Millsap would try to face Smart up from the high post, but Smart's hands are too quick and his center of gravity was too low. Millsap was a little worn down at that point, as somewhat alluded to by Paul himself as well as Smart, Thomas and Stevens. But almost any other player under 6'7 in the league would have still been bullied into submission by Trillsap in that situation.
Smart makes a successful swipe on the ball in that he makes clean contact without committing a foul. But Millsap's strength held true as he was able to hold the ball tight, step through a stumbling Smart and score the layup. It was a great lesson on avoiding the fumble in front of Bill Belichick and LeGarrette Blount.
In overtime, Atlanta recognized that they couldn't post Millsap low on Smart, so they went early to a high-post faceup. Smart kept his chest open and took the contact well. It sent Millsap falling off-balance into an airballed fadeaway.
Smart made plenty of wild plays on both ends. Some of them were too wild of course, but his relentless cut throat basketball won out in the end.
"I think if we infect that, I think we would infect the contagiousness of our whole team," Stevens said of Smart. "His aggressiveness, his competitiveness, his spirit, our team needs it. He might take a shot at times you want back, but he's the key to our team winning."
Smart has proven that he can handle bigs in short stints, but this was the first time he targeted a player of this caliber for such an extended period of time. While Millsap may have been tired, Smart had played about the same amount of minutes and expended more energy than anyone on the court.
In the end, Millsap was left empty handed with a breathtaking stat line from a night to forget.
"It could've been sweet if we got this win," Millsap said. "But we didn't. So pretty much a wash."
When CelticsBlog recited the stat line to Millsap, he asked if Olajuwon won his game. When told he lost as well, Millsap responded, "Oh they lost. So yeah, numbers doesn't matter if it doesn't equal a win."
As Smart's numbers finally equaled his output and added up to a win, he continues to plug every hole the Hawks expose. His offensive performance finally lived up to his defensive prowess in Game 4. With a day off before Game 5, Smart will need to rest up and get ready for Round 2 in the heavyweight match of the week.