Boston Wins the War of Northern Aggression in Game 5
It’s almost as if those two games in Atlanta never happened.
In Game 5, much like their first two games of the series on their home court, the Boston Celtics submitted a methodical, defense-driven performance that drove the Atlanta Hawks down to the tune of a 110-85 drubbing.
The Hawks offered a couple stretches of defiance, most notably with a 9-0 run that reduced the Celtics’ 15 point lead at the half to 8 in the early part of the third quarter. Otherwise, Boston was able to maintain their steady pressure throughout most of the game, outscoring the Hawks in each of the four quarters.
Boston’s Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all played well, combining for 61 points before earning an early exit from the game in the fourth quarter. Pierce came out strong with 10 points in the first quarter and it was Ray Allen’s shooting in the third quarter that drove the Celtics offense and helped them to maintain a comfortable lead.
The bigger difference from the Atlanta games, however, was the stronger contribution from Boston’s supporting cast. Leon Powe in particular contributed a monster effort, especially in the first half, after a dismal performance in Atlanta. Powe set the tone early on the offensive glass and also drew two key charges, the second of which sent Hawks star Joe Johnson to the bench with early foul trouble and thus stalled the Hawks offense. Sam Cassell also recovered from his poor play on the road by hitting a series of daggers, finishing with an uber-efficient 13 points on 6-8 shooting in under 15 minutes.
There was again a large disparity in freebies allocated, with Atlanta earning 29 trips to the line versus Boston’s 15 (it was 23 to 9 in Atlanta’s favor after three quarters). Even with that benefit, though, Atlanta wasn‘t able to overcome Boston’s strong play on both ends of the court.
Perhaps the defining moment of the game for me was halfway into the first quarter. Garnett had been jawing with Josh Smith after some back-and-forth physical play between the two big men and he goaded Smith into taking an ill-advised 18 foot fall away. After Boston controlled the rebound, Garnett waited for a pick on Smith to step into an open 18 footer of his own, which he sunk. And therein lies the difference between a very talented and athletic young man and a very talented older veteran. In short, the Hawks have some nice players but they’re just not ready for this yet.
Now this curious series heads back to Atlanta for some more drama. This is where it gets interesting again because no one is surprised when the Celtics beat the Hawks at home. The surprise comes when the 66 win team gets whipped by the 37 win team, regardless of the fact that it’s on the road.
It seems clear that the Hawks cannot beat Boston at home so Game 6 isn’t exactly considered a must-win for the Celtics. Regardless, Boston’s older veteran squad would benefit from an early wrap-up on Friday night, especially considering that the Washington Wizards were able to stay alive by beating an uninspired Cavaliers squad in Cleveland. To earn that Game 7 bye, the Celtics will be challenged to find a way to win on the road against a team that clearly takes on a far more dangerous persona on their own home court. By now, nobody expects the Hawks to go gentle into that good night in front of their own fans. It’s back to the trenches and it will have to another war of northern aggression for the Celtics to come away with the victory.
[top image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/themikelee/]