They can't just make it easy for themselves, right?
In what was a golden opportunity for the Boston Celtics to close out this first round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, the C's allowed the Hawks to get two games on them and make the series 3-2 now, heading back to Atlanta. It was an utter collapse from the Celtics in the fourth quarter and they apparently haven't learned their lesson from past playoff series and made it harder on themselves again.
And of course, they did it in epic fashion.
In front of an ecstatic crowd in TD Garden, the Celtics closed out the game with awful transition offense, half-hearted effort on the glass, and terrible offense. This left the door wide open for the Hawks and Trae Young, who had a game-high 38 points.
The collapse began with the C's up eight with 10:24 left to play. Head coach Joe Mazzulla subbed in Blake Griffin, giving him his first action the whole series. From a strategic standpoint, getting Griffin ready for minutes against Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, a team that the Celtics will be facing in the next round, isn't a bad idea. From a reality standpoint, this game was not over. Mazzulla knows that his squad tends to lose focus and now he's going to sub in a guy whose only purpose is to get warm for the next series. Complete misread on Mazzulla's part.
Boston was able to maintain an eight point lead and started slowing the pace, playing more "not to lose" rather than "to win." Keeping it close however, gave the Hawks life and with ten easy points due to five Celtics' turnovers in the fourth quarter, you could feel the momentum shifting for Atlanta. Before every Celtics' fan knew it, the game was tied at 111 after back to back three's from Young.
With 2:18 left, Robert Williams III was able to grab an offensive rebound after an Al Horford missed three, and put it back up for the and-one. Williams missed the free throw, but the C's were back up two. Atlanta immediately responded on the other end with Young drawing a foul on Horford. Jayson Tatum didn't like the call, but surely he would keep his emotions in check, right? Wrong. He instead hit the ball in the direction of the referee after the call was made. It was a questionable call, there wasn't really much there to be honest, but there is no way you can take that risk and put it into the hands' of the officials. Tatum gets a technical and the Hawks lead 114-113.
Now scrambling a little on offense, the Celtics needed a miscommunication from Atlanta on a jump ball to retake the lead. After the C's won the jump, Tatum threw a lob pass ahead to Williams, who put it home for a one point lead with 25 seconds left.
One defensive stop and this game would have been over, but Marcus Smart pressured Young during the inbounds and dove for the ball which resulted in a foul. It was not a typical "Smart" effort play as the camera then panned to Jaylen Brown, with his hands above his head, saying "that's a bad foul" (I am an expert lip reader, I swear this is what he said). Brown was right, Atlanta was in the bonus and the C's yet again put their fate into the hands of the officials. Young would make both free throws to put his squad up 116-115 with 15 seconds left to play.
An anxious Boston crowd then watched Derrick White attack the cup, earning a foul on Young which Atlanta unsuccessfully challenged. White, calm and collected, drilled both free throws and the C's had another opportunity to close the game with one stop, up one with seven seconds left.
A now restless Celtics' fanbase would have gladly taken a win. Yes, Boston looked terrible in the fourth, but at least they were able to scrape by a seven-seeded Hawks team in this one and learn something from this collapse.
Then Trae Young knocked down a 30 foot three. Hawks up two with 1.8 seconds left. Tatum's fadeaway three isn't good on the other end. Ball game. 119-117 Hawks.
With a win, the Celtics could have had three days of rest to get ready for Philadelphia. With a win, Brown could have added another great playoff game under his belt as he was spectacular in this one, scoring 35 and coming out red hot in the first quarter.
With a win, the Celtics could have silenced at least a little bit of the narrative that they lose focus and play down to their competition and could have properly handled a terrible defensive Hawks team without their other star player, Dejounte Murray, who was suspended for this one after bumping into a referee after Game 4.
Now, they are going back to Atlanta for a matchup tomorrow night at 8 p.m. EST.
You have to love Celtics' basketball.
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Stay tuned for more coverage of the Boston Celtics as they now look to close out the Hawks tomorrow night!
- W. Monast