Like all of Celtics nation, I’m reeling a little bit from what happened tonight. Please don’t think of this as a logical, thoughtful recap. I’m much too phased for that. I’ve just got some major issues swirling through my head at the moment, and I need to try and sort through them.
1 – THE HOMECOURT ISSUE
If you were one of the people calling for the Celtics to make home court a priority, then by all means go ahead and complain. There’s no question it played a huge role in tonight’s game.
The Celtics came out flat, and the Hawks were clearly energized by their home crowd. In addition, the fact that the Celtics were so intentionally apathetic about home court (sending the JV squad to Atlanta last Friday despite only being one game behind the Hawks in the standings) cannot have played well in the Hawks’ locker room and probably only added fuel to the “nobody believes in us” fire. Jannero Pargo confirmed that this weekend.
I, however, will not be second-guessing Doc, because I fully supported this strategy. I still do. Catching Chicago or Miami was out of the question. So, it wasn’t just a question of “homecourt”, which many Celtics fans will be quick to tell you was a huge reason for us winning the title in 2008 and losing it in 2010. It was a question of “homecourt in round 1 against the Hawks”. The Celtics should be able to win a game in Atlanta. If they can’t, then they’re not real contenders. Homecourt shouldn’t factor in to this series if they’re playing well.
The importance of health, particularly for a team that will rely so heavily on its veterans, cannot be overstated. I’m willing to concede that this issue may have affected the outcome of game 1, but I maintain that it should not affect the result of this series.
2- THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS GAME
I’ll admit I was overconfident coming into this game. The Celtics appeared the same way. Doc Rivers accused them of this during an early timeout, saying they viewed themselves as the “big, bad Celtics”. I never actually thought of this matchup with the Hawks the way that you’re supposed to think about a series. “We need to get one in Atlanta” never entered my mind. I wasn’t completely unwilling to wrap my head around the notion that we could lose to this team.
Clearly I didn’t think much of these Hawks. And I wasn’t the only one.
Make no mistake about it, this was a statement game for Atlanta. They heard everybody counting them out. Everybody. They played great. And, there’s no question that the Celtics are going to have their hands full if the Hawks play like this the rest of the way. Luckily, this was only one game, and I don’t think either team will play like this again.
This felt like a 30-point blowout. For the Celtics, everything was off. They were flat for the first three quarters. They didn’t close out on three point shooters. They were beaten to loose balls. In addition to their lack of intensity, they had an awful shooting night. They shot 39% from the field. This was their first playoff game since 1993 without a 3 point field goal. Paul Pierce could not get going, despite trying to force the issue by getting to the basket as the game wore on (Pierce finished 5 – 19). They got 4 points from their bench.
It would be really difficult for the Celtics to turn in a worse performance than the one they laid out tonight. And, the Hawks seemed to be in rhythm right away when the ball was tipped. They were playing up-tempo, getting behind the Celtics in transition for easy buckets, and were able to come up with big three pointers whenever it felt like the Celtics might be starting to build some momentum. Jason Collins got the better of Kevin Garnett in the first half, and Josh Smith took his usual number of ill-advised shots, but he seemed to make them (particularly one back-breaker in the fourth quarter with a hand in his face).
The Celtics had no business winning this game. And yet, they could have.
Somewhere along the way in the third quarter, Kevin Garnett found his shooting touch. He and Rondo (who turned in a great performance) were able to get the Celtics within ten by the end of the third quarter. The Cs ratcheted up their defensive intensity and made their best run at a comeback. With one minute remaining, the Celtics trailed by only 4. This was a winnable game.
I’ll get to what happened in that last minute. But, first let me make my point. We’re all upset. We’re overblowing what happened, because we weren’t expecting it. But, the silver lining to this game is that the Celtics are not going to shoot this poorly again. The Celtics will not come out flat and sleep walk through an entire half again. We will not see another game in which they are totally run off the floor like they were tonight. And yet, despite all of that, they were in a position to win.
And, with 1 minute left, trailing only by 4, I was feeling pretty good about our chances to get out of Atlanta with a split.
Then, issue 3 happened.
3 – RONDO’S EJECTION
This was unacceptable. There’s no other way to look at it. This was a borderline Ron Artest moment. He just lost control of his emotions and committed a completely stupid and selfish act. I don’t even think he was right (Bass raked Smith’s face and neck), but that’s besides the point.
Rondo has to be suspended for a game. There’s no other way. The rules are very clear about contact with a referee. There is no gray area. If this were a Hawks player and they weren’t suspended, I can guarantee you the Celtics organization would take every possible avenue to try and appeal that decision.
I’m completely unwilling to give Rondo the benefit of the doubt here. The players all know these rules. I won’t even buy the argument that he tripped (and, as I’ve said, it doesn’t matter according to the rules). If he hadn’t lost his cool and gotten in the referee’s face in the first place, he wouldn’t have been dangerously close to him.
I love Rondo, and I think he played great tonight. But he’s put us in a real bad spot. There’s no question that the Celtics can win without him, but its unlikely. I expect that the Celtics are going to go back to Boston down 2-0. The Celtics should still win this series, but this is going to make a much longer and more arduous process than it needs to be.