Yikes. I don't know how cogent I am right now, but let me at least start trying to make sense of what just happened. Basically, the Hawks have made this a series - which seemed incomprehensible to me until the fourth quarter actually unfolded tonight. So while much can be said, the simple fact is that Atlanta-Boston actually has gravitas now - which should be a scary thought for Celtics fans.
I was almost certain the Green would win today - because these are the type of contests they have won the entire season. KG's angry reaction to Saturday's loss insured in my mind that the series was about to be sealed up. And as skittish as the Celtics played in the first half, by the end of the third things were falling in place as they always do. Boston's defense had settled in, allowing only 14 points the whole quarter, and a comfortable 10 point lead had been established. After a game and a half of playing poorly, and seeing the Hawks play well, natural order had been restored.
But the final quarter panned out in a completely unfamiliar way - Boston's offense was limp and Atlanta scored 32 POINTS to rightfully come away as the winner. It was something we have hardly seen this year - especially when all the chips are on the table. It was disturbing as hell - because this collapse could imply a weakness that so far has been concealed. Yes, it was but one game, but it was a horrible one to lose, especially against a clearly inferior opponent.
And rationalizing why the Celtics lost won't help much in getting rid of this lousy sinking feeling. Sure, Josh Smith had a monstrous evening. And Joe Johnson had an even bigger game - with his monumental fourth quarter heroics shaking the building. Meanwhile, the officiating seemed partial the entire night - goaltending wasn't called on two of Smith's blocks, and the C's seemed to get mauled several times without whistles being blown. On top of this, many shots seemed to roll around the rim and then fall out - shots that find the bottom of the net most nights. The C's 41% FG percentage was partly their own doing - they often just couldn't get the ball to go in. And finally, the ATL crowd really was into this game tonight, as they seemed to sense that their lovable losers actually had a chance.
With all those excuses spelled out, let me now say - none of them are very legitimate for rationalizing tonight's final outcome. The Celtics played subpar D (for them) in the first half, turned it on for a quarter, and then went right back to bad D in the fourth. Still, it well might have been their offense that killed them in the end. Glenn inserted a bench-ridden Eddie House to replace a hot Rondo at the beginning of the fourth, and the wheels immediately began falling off. They made one field goal in the six minutes Eddie was in there, and scored 5 points total. Atlanta scored thirteen, totally changing the complexion of the game in their favor.
Glenn turning to Eddie to give Rondo a blow made sense - Cassell had been awful in the first half. But after a few minutes of anemic offense House should have been pulled for a fresher Rondo; or in the least Sam should have been given another shot. Instead House remained in the game, and the hourglass was turned the other way. Many coaches would make the mistake Glenn made - nonetheless it was mighty disconcerting.
But I can't pin this loss on Rivers. It was a team defeat, and the big boys have to step up and play when it counts. For a team that has shown such mettle throughout the year, there was little to recognize tonight. The fact that they failed miserably for one evening will mean nothing if they can show it's just a fluke. But it only takes a few "flukes" in the playoffs to end up going home unhappy for the Summer.