Boston Celtics Atlanta Hawks Game 7
It is hard to believe there had to be a game 7 in the 1st round series between the #1 seed Boston Celtics and #8 seed Atlanta Hawks. Nearly all the pundits had the 66 win Celtics take this series in 4 games against the lowly, sub-500 Hawks.
But then a strange thing happened. Or not so strange. Clearly regular season records are not necessarily relevant when playoff time comes. The San Antonio Spurs prove this yearly by sleepwalking through the regular season with their top starters playing 30-35 minutes a game. Playoffs are more about which teams are playing hot and particular matchups within the game.
Matchups are what made the Celtics / Hawks series so compelling. While the Celtics have three absolute studs in Kevin Garnett Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, overall the Hawks are brimming with athleticism. Josh Smith, Al Horford, Josh Childress and of course Joe Johnson have taken it to Boston physically. Much like Golden State did to Dallas last year, The Hawks made the older more experienced team look slow and unathletic.
Also home court was pivotal with each home team winning each game. So having the better regular season record helps in that regard definitely as both teams were completely different based on the venue. The Hawks were overwhelmed in Boston, getting blown out in all the games and the last one by 40+ most of the game. Meanwhile the Hawks still had a ton of confidence when playing in a packed Phillips Arena in Atlanta. And the Celtics were the ones who looked nervous and did not knock down their shots.
The other factor with home court is foul calls (Lakers in early 2000's anyone?) The Hawks shot a ridiculous 47 FT's in game 6 but have shot a fraction of that when playing in Boston. Part of this is a lack of aggressiveness to the rim and better team defense by Boston. But a lot of the calls Atlanta was getting going to the rim against the Celtics, these were no calls in Boston.
Amazingly this was the only 7 game series in round 1 yet it was supposed to be a sure fire sweep. Still this is the best thing to happen to the Atlanta Hawks franchise in quite some time and could propel this young team to greater heights in coming years. Energizing the Philips Arena was a plus as they normally are not known for their crowd noise. Performing more consistently in the regular season especially on the road will allow this team in the future to grab a higher seed and put themselves in a more realistic situation to make some noise in the playoffs.
But Kevin Garnett and friends closed them out and it's time for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have been resting since their game 6 victory in Washington. The Cavs took the Eastern crown last year and we all saw what The King LeBron James can do in the playoffs. Only Kobe Bryant can take over a game like James did against Detroit. Was the Atlanta series a wake up call for the Celtics or a harbinger of things to come for a team that does not look as playoff ready as their record would indicate. Remember, Garnett / Allen / Pierce have failed numerous times to take their teams over the top, so they will need to prove themselves even if they are the veterans. Garnett in particular will need to be more efficient and take charge in fourth quarters as he is a significant matchup problem for the slow bigs in Cleveland.