Boston dominated throughout their 101-79 victory on Sunday night in taking control of the series. The final margin of victory was 22 points, but the Celtics led by as many as 37 points while shooting over 60% from the field through three quarters before finishing with 51% from the field and 42% from 3-point land.
Rajon Rondo accounted for 56 points between his 20 points (on 8-11 shooting) and a game-high 16 assists. The 56 points that Rondo accounted for on the night was the 5th highest total of the entire NBA season. Paul Pierce tallied 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting in just 18 minutes of court time, while converting an array of contested jump shots, as well as asserting his will from the three-point line. None of the five Boston starters notched a +/- less than +22 and Kevin Garnett posted a game-high +33 to go along with his 16 points and 5 rebounds in just 27 minutes.
For the Hawks, Al Horford surprisingly returned to play 20 minutes, score 12 points, and grab 5 rebounds. Horford’a appearance was never disclosed until his arrival on the court in his jersey, and his play was an encouraging sign for the future once he got acclimated to the flow of the game. Josh Smith posted the best stat line with 15 points and 13 rebounds, but no other Atlanta player scored over 11 points or snared more than 5 rebounds.
Joe Johnson shot just 4 of 8, as he failed to assert himself aggressively into the game in his 31 minutes of floor time. A key stat in the loss was that Atlanta committed 17 turnovers including 8 in the first quarter that resulted in 11 early points for the Celtics. The Hawks also failed to convert from distance, as they shot 4 for 20 from three-point land.
In the final quarter, Atlanta controlled the scoring by a 16-11 margin, but Boston had no incentive to push their starters (or even their reserves) after finishing the 3rd quarter with a 90-63 lead.
Josh Smith’s balky left knee showed with a noticeable limp throughout the game, and while he still had above-average explosion that he showed on an early-game dunk, his entire game is predicated on athleticism and burst, and he’s not the same player at less than 100% from his legs.
Boston has taken full control of this series with home-court advantage and a 3-1 series lead.
Player Grades: Each player is given a grade on an A+ through F scale based upon their game performance.
Jeff Teague: D
Teague was a complete non-factor in this game. He allowed Rajon Rondo to do whatever he wanted defensively (see above for the particulars), shot just 3 of 9 from the field, and notched only 3 assists on the night. His decision making left a lot to be desired, and his inability to slow the ball in transition led to several open opportunities for the Boston offense.
Kirk Hinrich: C-
22 minutes of average-at-best production. Hinrich was the best defensive guard by a wide margin on this night (not a high bar), but tallied just 2 points on 3 shots thanks to the jarring lack of open opportunities created by a lack of penetration elsewhere. Also, it is not Hinrich’s fault that Larry Drew refuses to play him at point guard, even when the other non-Teague options leave more to be desired.
Joe Johnson: D-
At first glance, it likely seems like I’m being too harsh with this grade, but there is absolutely no excuse for Johnson to attempt only 8 shots on a night where the Hawks’ offense couldn’t generate points. Defensively, he was abused by Paul Pierce throughout, and wasn’t any better in transition. Also, he grabbed just one rebound in 31 minutes, and posted a game-worst -21 rating. The story of Johnson’s career in Atlanta can be described as underwhelming, but he’s still the leading scorer, the highest-paid player, and the only legitimate creator of perimeter offense on the team, and this was a night where Atlanta needed him to be an elite player. He failed to deliver that because of his passiveness. Simple as that.
Josh Smith: C or Incomplete
Smith gets a C from me because he was noticeably injured. If he wasn’t injured and played the exact same game, I’d give him a D or lower, but he gets the pass. The rebounding was there (finishing with 13 on the night), but the shot selection was terrible again as he shot just 1 of 8 from outside of 10 feet, and attempted 62% of his shots from that distance. In fact, the only converted jump shot of the night was perhaps his worst shot choice, as he was able to knock down a contested 19-foot fadeaway late in the 3rd quarter. That said, the shot selection wasn’t the worst part of the performance, as he committed 6 turnovers, with 4 of them leading to direct points for the Celtics. In the end, Smith should be commended for attempting to play in what was perceived as a must-win game despite being less than 100%, and it’s tough to kill him for his below-average production.
Jason Collins: C
Collins played just 12 minutes, and did Jason Collins things when he was out there. He can’t be expected to produce anything tangible in a series where the opposing team doesn’t have a dominant 7-foot post player (since defending said post player is Collins’ only NBA-level skill), but at least Drew only played him 12 minutes.
Al Horford: B
Horford’s presence was the only positive outcome from this game. Just minutes before the tip, Horford emerged in uniform, and while he looked noticeably rusty early in his 20 minutes of play, he became more and more acclimated as the game went on. Horford finished with 12 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes, was the best defensive big throughout his time on the court, and even showed flashes of being Al Horford. I’m encouraged, and that’s something to grab onto after a night like this.
Marvin Williams: C-
This would probably lower if not for adjusted expectations. Marvin played just 18 minutes here, netting 8 points and 3 rebounds while providing adequate perimeter defense on Pierce and company. We all know Marvin’s ceiling at this point and he’s done little to inspire any hope of raising that ceiling. On the bright side, he wasn’t the worst player on the court as he was in Game 2.
The Rest of the Bench: C-
Larry Drew cleared the bench in this one, and with the margin on the scoreboard, that was warranted. Jannero Pargo actually scored 11 points, but needed 11 shots to do it, while Erick Dampier posted 8 points and 3 rebounds in just 12 minutes. There isn’t a whole lot to mention here aside from Tracy McGrady crashing back to Earth as he played only 9 minutes (after 41 in Game 3), and looked sluggish at best.
Larry Drew: D
It defies all logic to me that Drew refuses to go with Kirk Hinrich at point guard when Jeff Teague is off the floor, and instead trots out the gunner that is Jannero Pargo. Drew did nothing to outright lose this game tactically, as the margin would indicate that there isn’t much he could have done, but at some level, the head coach has to be responsible for getting his team ready to play, and this level of effort in a must-win playoff game can’t be excused.
SDS Plays of the Game:
When the Hawks got off the bus from the team hotel. The point in which this game was, for all intensive purposes, over was when Paul Pierce knocked down a dagger three-pointer at the 6:13 mark of the 2nd quarter. That shot made the score 51-27, and the Celtics would lengthen the lead to 37 points before cruising to victory.
SDS Player of the Game:
Rondo finished with 20 points and a ludicrous 16 assists to just 3 turnovers, including 13 assists and zero turnovers in the first half of play. His 56 points accounted for was the 5th-highest mark of the 2012 NBA season.
Boston shot the lights out for the entirety of the time that this game was being competed. The Celtics shot 64% in the first half, and were soaring over 68% late into the 3rd quarter before giving way to the bench in the 4th. There is no question that Boston made an inordinate amount of contested shots in this game, and that was the reason for the insane margin of victory, but don’t be fooled into thinking this was simply a dominant Celtics performance.
Simply put, this was an absolutely inexcusable performance for the Hawks. The complete no-show from Joe Johnson and Jeff Teague set a tone for ineptitude, and when coupled with a hobbled Josh Smith and 10 debilitating early turnovers, the game got out-of-control in a hurry.
Do I believe that the Hawks can legitimately win this series? Actually, no. Is there the possibility that this enigmatic unit could put together three consecutive “good” games? I guess so, but with the injury issues of Smith and Horford, it would take a super-human effort from Joe Johnson the rest of the way to do so. If there’s anything we’ve learned about the Joe Johnson era, I wouldn’t expect that “super-human” is the adjective we’d be using after Game 5 in Atlanta.
Game 5 is Tuesday night at 8:00 PM (ET) back in the friendly confines of Philips Arena.