By Kevin Henkin
Wow. Crisis averted, and in resounding fashion with a 99-65 Boston win. After dealing with a noisy chorus of doubters and some well-deserved criticism for letting this series go seven games, the Celtics did their answering on the court by delivering an epic beating of the Hawks in the deciding contest. This wasn’t the kind of game that warrants a traditional recap so we’ll zoom right past those formalities and skip ahead to summarize the facts, comment on some key moments and theorize what the game means in terms of looking ahead to the next series.
Facts: In this case, the numbers do a decent job of selling the story of total domination (although the early start to garbage time in the third quarter softened somewhat the severity of those numbers). For the game, the Hawks shot a hideous 29.3%, scored 65 points, turned the ball over 9 more times than Boston and even lost the battle of trips to the stripe, which had been their one consistent and meaningful advantage in every other game in the series.
This was clearly a message game for Boston. The Celtics might have been tempted to ease off the gas pedal and allowed for perhaps a more graceful exit by their young opponents. We’ll never know, however, because such potential benevolence evaporated when Marvin Williams laid a senselessly vicious clothesline on Rajon Rondo as the Celtics’ floor general hung precariously in mid-air.
Indulge me with a quick aside on this play, if you will, because it really is worth some deeper examination.
Are you familiar with the concept of cognitive dissonance? It describes when a person filters information that conflicts with what he or she believes in an effort to ignore that information and reinforce those existing beliefs. In short, it’s a measure that a brain takes to protect its owner from a messed up head in the wake of his own inexplicably bad behavior.
Observe cognitive dissonance in action within Williams’ comments after the game: “I saw it on TV and it did look pretty bad, so I can’t argue that at all. I just want Rondo to know that I would never try to hurt him.” Except he did try to hurt Rondo. At the very least, Williams threw his body at full velocity into Rondo at the moment of his greatest vulnerability, hooked him around the neck, then allowed gravity to take its full course. After the play, and before he was rightfully tossed from the game with a Flagrant 2 foul, Williams looked satisfied with what he had done and made the rounds to celebrate high fives with his teammates. I hope Williams enjoys his warm mental security blanket.
On the play, Hawks Coach Mike Woodson reflected, “It probably did energize them some. But I don’t think that was the difference in the ballgame. We struggled right from the start.”
He’s right on all both counts. The game was already over and the play released the Celtics from any responsibility to make the good sportsman’s gesture to ease up. Following that play, Boston took out the anvil and laid it down upon the heads of the Hawks until the word humiliation crept into the minds of most observers.
The other singular play worth mentioning had no effect on the final score but sent an important message, to both the Hawks and the Cavaliers. The play was a pick-of-a-lifetime set by Kevin Garnett on Zaza Pachulia and the message was Daddy don’t take no mess. Recall that it was Pachulia who had made a concerted effort to earn Garnett’s ire earlier in the series with his nose-to-nose tough guy preenings. One could say that the intense Celtics big man waited patiently in the weeds before delivering his official response. Upon further reflection, the play was just so Garnett. The pick was physically devastating but it was technically clean and thus free from the risk of suspension and it was made only after the game and series were well in hand in Boston’s favor.
Some may say that the Celtics still have something to prove after dropping those three regrettable games on the road. Maybe so, but followers of the green have to feel some of their swagger creeping into their bones after watching their team respond the challenge of a Game 7 that never should have been with such effective resolve and outright determination. If I’m Cleveland, I’m frankly a little scared by what I saw in the series clincher, regardless of the court on which it was played. Until Tuesday…