The Atlanta Hawks looked like a solid basketball team for about 35 minutes of Tuesday night’s game against the Boston Celtics, the team in danger of falling behind 2-0 in the seven-game series when they were forced to play without their starting backcourt. The Celtics looked like they’d return to Boston in a hole after trailing by 11 points late in the third quarter, too, but like he’s done quite a few times since first donning Boston Green way back in 1998, Paul Pierce decided it was time to take over.
Pierce looked excellent in the first quarter as he scored 13 of the team’s 24 points, but even that performance wasn’t enough foreshadowing to lead everyone to believe he’d take the game’s final stanza over quite like he would. By the time things were done, in fact, it almost seemed as though Pierce said, “No Ray Allen? No Rajon Rondo? No problem!” as he hoisted the Celtics on his back on the way to 36 points, 14 rebounds and an 87-80 victory to tie the series at one game apiece for prior to Friday night’s Game 3 back in Boston.
The veteran wing sat idly by as the Celtics ran the offense through Garnett. Pierce took over midway through the fourth quarter when he smelled blood (thanks to the Hawks going into a terrible isolation offense) and ferociously attacked. The team’s fourth-quarter catalyst scored seven of nine Celtics points midway through the fourth quarter to move the game from a 60-60 tie to a 71-65 lead — capped off with an ode to Tim Tebow for good measure — and Boston would hold off the Hawks the rest of the way.
Pierce’s game will no doubt be talked about most as the reason Boston was able to steal a game in Atlanta despite missing both Allen (due to injury) and Rondo (due to suspension), but it could just as easily be attributed to Atlanta losing focus after playing pretty well through the first two and a half quarters of basketball. It certainly didn’t help that Josh Smith headed back to the locker room late in the fourth quarter with what was later diagnosed as a sprained knee, but even before that happened, the Hawks’ offense looked awful.
Atlanta shot worse than 35 percent from the field and, while it’d be great to be able to say that was due to a defensive battle, the Hawks simply quit trying to execute on the offensive end as the game progressed. Jeff Teague attacked the rim with reckless abandon instead of finding the open man off the drive like he did earlier in the game, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith were unable to create off the dribble and didn’t have any cutters to pass the ball too before they threw up errant shots (the two missed 23 combined field goal attempts) while the rest of the Hawks simply aren’t built to score in the isolation offense head coach Larry Drew drew(?) up.
As far as the rest of the game was concerned, it was great to be able to focus on some of the role players while the key guys were out — once getting past the fact that Sasha Pavlovic, Ivan Johnson, Keyon Dooling and Willie Green are all playing meaningful minutes in the playoffs, anyway. Kirk Hinrich didn’t have an impressive box score with just eight points, but his impact was much greater as he was by far the headiest guard in action Tuesday night; D-League stalwart Ivan Johnson and Jason Collins were able to basically bottle up Kevin Garnett before Drew left Collins in too long and he picked up his sixth foul up early in the fourth quarter; and Avery Bradley, another player that spent a significant amount of his rookie season in the NBA Development League, showed solid moxie as he played more than 41 minutes while picking up three steals, three blocks and just a single turnover as the team’s starting point guard.
It’s tough to say that the second game of the series mattered immensely as far as the big picture of the series is concerned since it’s possible Smith will be out due to the knee injury, Allen and Zaza Pachulia will return from injury and Rondo will be back from his one-game suspension. That said, though, it’s pretty difficult to imagine the Hawks will be able to overcome Pierce if he plays like a man possessed once again on Friday night.