ATLANTA - Kris Humphries outscored Isaiah Thomas in three minutes as the Celtics' season imploded into the 4th dimension of the Mike Scott galaxy. While the fourth quarter was a nice preview of this series five years from now, the game ended with a Thabo Sefolosha dunk on the Hawks' first play of the quarter.
The Hawks had two staggering runs of 28-8 in the second quarter and 29-8 in the third. The Celtics shot an ironic 7 for 17 from the field in both quarters, but the Hawks played at an entirely different speed. Atlanta outscored Boston 74-42 over the second and third quarters. There is no stat in existence that fails to illustrate the Hawks' utter dominance in the middle of this game.
It is hard to play defense when you are in a perpetual state of backpedaling. In the Celtics' wins, they averaged 22.5 points from turnovers per CBS Sports' Matt Moore. But in the Hawks' wins, the Celtics average just 8.3 points.
The Hawks attempted 17 more field goals during the second and third quarters while going 11 for 21 (52.4%) from deep. It was a massacre that harkened back to the Celtics' putrid seven-point quarter in Game 2.
Stevens challenged the Hawks to pick his defense apart by switching on every screen that made contact with a defender. While the Celtics' lineups were versatile enough to handle the first few switches on a possession, the Hawks kept passing and rescreening until eventually a green jersey was stuck in no-man's land while a white jersey was all alone for three. The Hawks finished with 30 assists on 42 baskets while swiping 13 steals for 19 fast break points to the Celtics' 8.
"Our defense was as good as we've played in those first 16 to 18 minutes," Stevens said. "After that we were not as good for whatever reason."
Amir Johnson was caught out of position multiple times and did not return after a messy four minutes to open the second hald. But it was Isaiah Thomas who was exposed more than any Celtics defender. Whether he was standing still on the free throw line or standing motionless out of bounds after a fast break, Thomas was the least active defender on the floor.
Thomas enjoyed his new baseline seats as Bazemore hit his third three in a row to give the Hawks a 10-point lead in the second quarter as the capstone to their vicious first run. Thomas had ample time to react to being pushed out of the play by spotting a potential kickout and getting near his airspace. But instead he casually watched, waiting for the next possession.
Going to the 2-3 zone invited more Hawks threes, as they kept passing around the perimeter while cutting through the paint to make a perimeter defender forget who was on his weak side.
The Hawks start this play with Millsap back screen for a cutting Sefolosha. Thabo then curls behind the zone to the weak side corner. This pulls Jerebko out to the corner a beat after Thomas doubles down to the ball on the strong side corner. But he misses Millsap popping to the top of the key as Smart picks him up and leaves Bazemore alone on the weak elbow.
When Scott's cut mistakenly sucks Turner deep into the paint, Jerebko is already rotating to Thabo in the corner as the ball swings to an open Bazemore for three. While Jerebko and Turner blew the zone handoff in the paint, the play was precipitated by Thomas's mistake to double down onto Teague.
More importantly, every defender on the floor was sitting back on their heels. Because the Celtics only run zone on occasion as a mid-game adjustment, they appeared to forget a few crucial fundamentals. The zone works well when communication and player handoffs are fluid and everyone stays forward in their stance. But when the strings get tangled, the system folds against a dangerous shooting team.
In the end, the Hawks shot more uncontested shots than contested, going 23 for 49 (46.9%). The Celtics shot 11 for 40 (27.5%) uncontested. Sometimes, it's just the team that shoots better that wins in the end. But in Game 5, luck did not get to take any credit.