No reason to be worried yet.
Sure, the Hawks landed a hard right cross in the first quarter and the Celtics played the remainder of game one with blood dripping from a busted lip. And, yeah, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce seemed punch drunk far longer than you’d expect from two old-school pugilists. But excluding the first quarter, the Celtics won this game, and more importantly, bore reasonable resemblance to the team we’ve been watching the last two months.
The Hawks walked out with a win, but nowhere near the definitive one suggested by all those first quarter fast breaks. In fact, their offensive rating for the night was 96.5, just a shade worse than the Celtics allowed during the regular season.
The problems for Boston were again on the offensive end. Atlanta’s intensity, particularly on the perimeter where they effectively denied Pierce (a brutal 5-19 from the field) and stymied much of Boston’s pick and roll game, seemed to put the Celtics off balance. The C’s burned through possession after possession, with precious little off-ball movement to create passing lanes, before they finally settled for long jumpers. And those got the Celtics nowhere. Garnett was bricking them, Pierce was bricking them and from outside the arc, where the Celtics missed all 11 shots on the night, everyone else was too.
Another concern: the Celtics might be exhausted with their long minutes: Rondo went for 43, Pierce 42 and even Garnett hit 40, which was only the second time all season he’s played that long. But a gang of exhausted Celtics rode back to the hotel last night with a clear understanding that they’d not be deeded a date with the Bulls in the second round, they’d have to bash and smash for it.
That might be the best thing that could have happened last night.
For better or for worse (mostly worse), this Celtics team has spent the last three seasons looking past lesser competition. There’s no worry of that happening again this series. The Hawks made sure of that last night.
We’ve got a host of additional thoughts coming later today, including Rondo talk and some grudging respect for Josh Smith, who made a number of bad shots and good passes last night.