By Kevin Henkin
Since I’m at the game tonight, the best way for me to cover the action will be to run my typical series of stream-of-consciousness observations. Let’s skip the rest of the preamble and head straight towards my deepest (relatively speaking, of course) thoughts.
While I’m walking past the entrance to the VIP parking lot on my way into the game, the passenger window of the next car in line reveals Boston’s own Lenny Clarke, who frantically waves someone over the car to chat with him. For those unaware, Lenny is an actor/comedian who looks a lot like Shelley Winters but isn’t quite as funny. Lenny also has a reputation for starring in television series that get cancelled soon thereafter his joining the cast (call it the “Ted McGinley Syndrome”). Considering this little reputational nuance, I’m wondering how wise it was for the Celtics to roll out the red carpet to this walking bad luck charm.
The Atlanta Hawks Media Guide introduces Head Coach Mike Woodson’s biography with the following paragraph: “It is quite an accomplishment for any sports team to participate in postseason action, and for the Atlanta Hawks and Head Coach Mike Woodson, the journey has sometimes been a long and difficult one.” Hmmm. Happy to be here, blah blah blah. After reading that little summary of the Hawks’ postseason berth, I’m officially thinking sweep.
Game time. The place is electric and crowd is beyond amped, filled with a Boston crowd that hasn’t witnessed a Celtics playoff squad with a legitimate chance at winning the title in well over twenty years. Let the games begin.
Less than four minutes in, the Celtics are up 8-2. Kendrick Perkins is due at the line following Atlanta’s first “calm down timeout”. The Hawks look scared, taking ill-advised shots against heavy defensive pressure. During the timeout, the scoreboard shows the score of the Detroit loss to Philadelphia. The crowd strongly approves of this result.
Rajon Rondo’s line with five minutes left: 6 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists. Mike Bibby, meanwhile has 0 points and 1 technical foul called for barking at the ref on his way into the second timeout. Rondo’s defense against the veteran Bibby has been stifling thus far.
After a bad pass from Leon Powe, Rondo pulls another one of his “throw the ball 100 mph against the nearest opponent so that it bounces out of bounds” plays The opponent in question is Mike Bibby, who is having a worse day than the German Swim Team.
Red Sox players Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia and Davis Ortiz are shown on the Jumbotron sitting front row courtside. Out of uniform, rather than the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, Pedroia looks like the kid brother in charge of rounding up beers and girls under threat of noogies and ridicule.
At the end of the quarter, the Celtics get sloppy on defense and let the Hawks back into the game. With two seconds left, Rondo hits an incredible shot from behind the backboard after drawing a foul but the refs don’t give him the continuation. Regardless, the floor general is hotter than Gisele Bundchen sitting on the surface of the sun. Score at the end of the first quarter: Celtics 29, Hawks 21.
The second unit has allowed the Hawks to reach within two with ten left to play when Garnett comes into the game and immediately knocks down a jumper and returns The Force to its proper equilibrium.
Before being replaced by Rondo halfway through the quarter, Sam Cassell has led the Celtics back to an 11 point lead. This is where Boston’s depth is hard to beat.
Kevin Garnett picks up his third foul with 4:04 remaining. This is the best news that the Hawks have received all night.
At 3:39, Rondo draws a charge on Bibby, continuing to frustrate the veteran.
At 3:08, Al Horford draws a foul, hit’s the shot and converts the And 1. It’s not an original thought but I’ll remind everyone at this time that Al Horford is a smart, tough, savvy player who plays far beyond his limited rookie experience. He’s also playing a large role in keeping the Hawks in this game.
After a Joe Johnson three, James Posey responds seconds later with his own three, then grabs the rebound on the next defensive possession. This reminds me of the words of his former coach Pat Riley offered earlier this season in the bowels of this very building. After a drubbing by the Celtics, when asked to reflect on the loss of James Posey (due to salary cap considerations), Riley said, “James Posey is a big shot, big play, big time player.” True, that.
End of half, Celtics 49, Hawks 40. The Hawks are impressing with this unexpected hanging around act of theirs. The second half, of course, will be the far more revealing of the two.
In the Hawks’ second possession, after Atlanta keeps the ball after back-to-back offensive rebounds, Celtics Assistant Coach and resident defensive guru looks like he’s going to rush the floor with a baseball bat for a little extra “coaching”.
At 7:47, Rondo in transition feeds Ray Allen with a perfect pass where he is positioned just behind the arc. Swish, followed by Atlanta’s first “calm down timeout” of the second half.
Three minutes left in the quarter and the Celtics are up by 14. A fair amount of misses on open looks and a lack of boxing out by the Celtics are the primary reasons that the game remains somewhat within reach.
After an airball by Rondo, he knocks down a three, a jumper and a sick runner across the lane to bring the lead to 18 by the end of the quarter (Celtics 73, Hawks 55). Don’t look now but Lenny Clarke is getting ready to sing.
(P.S. Yes, that was a fat lady joke.)
At 9:10, the Celtics get called for their fourth team foul (compared to Atlanta‘s one team foul). During the shots, Sam Cassell takes the time to explain to one of the refs what Dr. Naismith meant by the concept of fouls in his original design of the game.
With seven minutes left to go, Sam Cassell nails a dagger three and brings the lead to 21. The crowd is happy and relaxed.
Just when the crowd seems to be getting a little sleepy, Leon Powe wakes them up with an eye-popping jam against double coverage, including Josh Smith. I’m pretty sure Leon Powe could muscle a slam through a truck full of fast drying concrete. This from a guy who couldn’t get on the floor at the beginning of the season. Now he’s clearly an important (if unheralded outside of Boston) part of the rotation.
Instead of the fat lady singing, Doc Rivers officially signifies the win by replacing Kevin Garnett with Glen “Big Baby” Davis with 3:26 remaining and the Celtics up by 22. Garbage time has officially begun. The rest of the game will be on cruise control.
Final score: Celtics 104, Hawks 81.
In summary, the game pretty much went according to script. Atlanta showed some spunk and their athleticism bought them some time but at the end of the day, they played just well enough to lose by 20 against the team with the best record in the league on their home court. There’s no reason to expect any materially different result in Game 2 but, as snarky former Red Sox Manager Jimy Williams used to say, that’s why they play the games. Until Wednesday evening…