Joe Johnson didn’t like the Atlanta Hawks’ energy in Game 4, but doesn’t sound confident anything will change tonight. Mike Woodson said Sunday night’s loss was deflating, and he told his team afterward they’ve had a great season. That would be a nice gesture, of course, except the season isn’t technically over. All but eight teams in NBA history to go down 3-1 in a series have lost, and the Hawks — with the notable exception of Al Horford, who said, “We’re coming. We’re bringing it at home.” — almost seem resigned to that fate.
Of course, the Hawks could still drill triples on each of their first seven possessions tonight and build a 37-17 lead by the end of the first quarter. Part of the beauty of sporting events is that we never know how these things will play out, but the Hawks do not seem to have the right collective mindset entering Game 5.
With an offensive surge that dropped from the heavens Sunday night, the Celtics have given the Hawks reason to question themselves, to ponder whether they are still the same old Hawks, whether they have enough to secure the 4th or 5th seed as always but enough to make a long playoff run. The first three games of this series exuded a feeling of equality between the two clubs; the fourth became a clinic of execution and dominance providing much evidence of Boston’s superiority.
Hawks forward Vladimir Radmanovic has been on the wrong end of a Celtics pile-drive before, starting for the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals. As Radmanovic said Sunday, “Different stakes, different teams. But it always sucks to lose by 30.”
If you can’t beat them, join them — or in this case, at least try to mirror their intensity and execution.
“They’re just running the plays way more harder than we are. Whatever play is called for Ray Allen, he’s coming off screens 100 miles per hour. Paul Pierce is finding a way to get open. The bigs are setting screens, getting guards open,” Josh Smith said after Game 4. “We have to try to duplicate what they do.”
Larry Drew shuffled his starting lineup for Game 5. Out go Jason Collins and Kirk Hinrich, in come Al Horford and Marvin Williams.
“I just wanted to give us a different look and see it if will kinda jump start us a bit,” said Drew.
The biggest positive of the new starting five is that Joe Johnson should be able to find several post-up opportunities against the smaller Avery Bradley. The downside is that Williams has played like he’s battling pneumonia and mononucleosis all at once. Of course, Horford is an upgrade on Collins. But the All-Star looked rusty — a handful of open dunks notwithstanding — in his Game 4 return after missing 58 straight games with a torn pectoral muscle.
Atlanta has other issues to resolve that have persisted regardless of the five players on the court, the biggest among them an inability to score against Boston’s vaunted defense. Atlanta is shooting 38.5 percent for the series and has not reached even 41 percent in any of the individual games. Since connecting on eight of their first 11 shots in the first quarter of Game 1, the Hawks have hit on just 117 of their last 314 attempts (37.3 percent). In the two periods that could have swung this series their way (the fourth quarter of Game 2 and the overtime in Game 3), the Hawks mustered a combined 18 points in 17 minutes.
The Celtics, with a number of players nursing minor injuries, have plenty of incentive to end the series in Game 5. Even without it, Keyon Dooling said he normally knows what to expect from his teammates.
“We haven’t really had a problem with our energy level much this season,” he said.
No, the Celtics have not had much problem with their effort so far this year, and Dooling doesn’t anticipate it being a problem tonight. The Celtics have two options entering Game 5. They can either end the Hawks’ season tonight and earn themselves some additional rest, or they can allow the Hawks reason to believe in themselves once more.
Tip-off is at 8 p.m.