For those old enough to remember playing Mortal Kombat, you know exactly what that phrase refers to. The opponent has been battered to the point where he has no green left on his life bar. He’s staggering, dazed and vulnerable. Then you hear the voice. “Finish him!” You know exactly what to do. You calmly go through the motions of pressing the buttons in the right order which triggers your character’s specialty move. The rest is just gore and triumph.
The NBA playoffs aren’t a video game. The Hawks aren’t going to just drop their hands and daze glassy eyed into the distance as the Celtics take their shots. At least I don’t think they will for the first 3 quarters. They know their season is on the line. They know they won a game in this series and have been been competitive at times. They’re underdogs and have nothing to lose. But they aren’t the better team and everyone knows it.
All of this should be obvious to everyone, especially the Celtics. Let’s face it though, beating lesser teams when they have a lead hasn’t exactly been Boston’s strength at times this season. They are self-aware enough to know this about themselves. They’ve talked about keeping focus and putting teams away. This is their opportunity to show that they can walk the walk.
Credit John Karalis for pointing this out, but there are round 2 schedule benefits to finishing this off quickly. For one thing, Joel Embiid is only a “50 percent at best” chance of being ready for the start of the next round according to Doc Rivers. The longer round 1 stretches out, the more time he has to recuperate. In addition, if the Celtics win game 5, the next round will have 3 days of rest after game 2. If not, then they’ll be playing every other game.
So there’s plenty of motivation to win this next game. Will the Hawks cooperate though? I think that if the Celtics start out strong and land the proverbial haymaker in the first quarter, the Hawks won’t have enough fight left to make a game of it. They’ll be on the road, where non-stars typically don’t perform as well. (Note: Don’t expect another 27 points from De’Andre Hunter) There’s even a chance that Dejounte Murray could be suspended for the game after bumping a ref after game 4.
Don’t get me wrong. The Hawks have performed better than expected in this series. They have a lot of talent on the roster that hasn’t all fit together well but can step up in a given game. They have a very good coach that is still figuring things out with this group. If the Celtics give them breathing room and confidence, they’ll likely regret it.
Which is why this has to end with Game 5. Push the right buttons, use your special move. Finish them!