Last night was, as Tim astutely pointed out, the Worst Loss of the Year. There's not even a close second. Whereas Saturday night's game was one of those weird "what-the-fuck" moments that you sort of chuckle nervously about and shrug off, last night was infinitely more troubling. The Hawks played with far more energy than the Celtics, Joe Johnson looked like a mid-1990s Reggie Miller in the fourth quarter, both Garnett and Pierce were disturbingly cold from the field, and the officiating more than occasionally left you wondering if there was some sort of Keyser Soze-level conspiracy afoot. It was a difficult night to be a basketball fan in Boston.
However, the time to panic is not now. It might be closer than it was on Saturday, but it's not now. Wednesday we're back in Boston in front of a home crowd and all that entails, and the Celtics will be fired up, make no mistake. Here's an interesting quasi-parallel to mull over: recall the 2002 playoffs, when the Celtics made their historic 21-point fourth quarter comeback against the Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals, stunning the heavily-favored Nets at the Garden and taking a 2-1 lead in the series. Many a pundit declared the momentum in the series irrevocably shifted, and speculation was rampant that the Nets would never be able to pick themselves back up from such epic humiliation. Of course, that was all bullshit, and the Nets went on to win the next three games in a series that we don't even remember as being particularly close. Why did this happen, you ask? Because they were much, much better at playing basketball than the Celtics were. Granted, there are numerous differences between these two situations, but at the moment that's what this situation most reminds me of: a humiliating aberration that will be dealt with because part of being a world-class athlete is dealing with humiliating aberrations on an almost constant basis. It's why Kevin Garnett took 21 shots last night and only made 5, because most nights he will make more than that; it's why Eddie House kept firing ill-advised threes that made me scream in frustration at the television, because most of the time what Eddie House does is make ill-advised threes that cause me to squeal with delight.
Look, last night was horrible; I woke up this morning and literally cringed in bed thinking about it. But it's one game. The series is tied 2-2. If three weeks ago someone announced to you that the first round of the playoffs had been truncated to a three-game series against the Atlanta Hawks, would you bat an eye? No, you would not have, except perhaps when you yawned and asked who we'd be playing in Round 2. And calling it a three-game series at this point is obviously cliched and disingenuous but it's not as disingenuous as claiming Game 4 as proof that the Hawks are in the Celtics' heads and that Rome is burning: the Hawks played the best basketball of their young lives last night, but they're still the Hawks; the Celtics played uncharacteristically lackadaisically and at times looked positively frightened, but they're still the Celtics. You're going to hear a lot about Mavs-Warriors in the next day or two but there are a number of reasons not to believe that garbage, starting with a couple big ones: 1) The difference in talent between the Mavs and Warriors was nowhere near as large as it is between Boston and Atlanta, and everyone at the time knew this; 2) the Warriors had one of the great coaches of the modern era guiding them against the Mavs, while the Hawks have Mike Woodson. This isn't to say that Glenn Rivers is Don Nelson, simply that Don Nelson's a hell of a lot more likely to outcoach Avery Johnson in a seven game series than Woodson is to outcoach Rivers. If Atlanta takes Game 5 in Boston we'll reconvene and have a vastly different discussion, but for now, let's try not to believe the hype, shall we? See you Wednesday.