A Tale of Two Cities: The Hawks Prevail Again at Home in Game 6
The best way to boil down this series between the Hawks and the Celtics is to say that it’s truly been a tale of two cities. In Boston, the Celtics dominate the Hawks in nearly every facet of the game and win by a comfortable margin of about 20 points. In Atlanta, the Celtics defense softens, their bench contributions dry up and the Hawks grow a temporary backbone. In Game 6 in Atlanta, it was the Celtics’ turn to suffer the worst of times as they dropped yet another disappointing road game to the Hawks 103-100.
The contest started out in Boston’s favor with Paul Pierce leading the way Boston’s offense, scoring 8 of his team’s first 10 points on 4-4 shooting. The Celtics maintained momentum throughout the quarter and came away at the end of it with an impressive 32-20 lead.
That momentum wouldn’t last long because the Hawks would bounce back with a lopsided quarter of their own in the second, outscoring the Celtics with a 29-18 effort. Atlanta’s bench outplayed Boston’s in that frame and throughout the rest of the game, with the most notable contributions coming from ZaZa Pachulia (who looks and sort of plays like Jeff Foster following a two month bender) and Josh Childress. The duo outhustled the opposition and were a ubiquitous and difference-making presence on the offensive glass all night long. At the half, Boston carried a tenuous lead of 50-49 into the locker room.
The third quarter was tightly contested between the two teams, with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen leading the way on Boston’s offense and Atlanta hanging in despite Josh Smith’s foul trouble and Joe Johnson’s minimal (to that point) contributions. Although Boston played well throughout much of the quarter, their defense faltered at the end as the Hawks hit 9 of their last 12 shots.
As has been the case throughout the series, the Hawks received favorable treatment from the officials, finishing the night with a 47-25 free throw advantage. Despite this, Mike Woodson was given a technical after arguing a rather obvious foul call against his team under the basket. In fact, Woodson was so upset that his novelty mustache nearly peeled off. Later in the quarter, Woodson’s apparently pending make-up call came against Leon Powe, who had been knocked to the floor seconds before but was stilled inexplicably whistled by Bob Delaney despite the fact that the official was halfway across the court and hindered by a view that was obstructed by half the players on the court. Yes, it’s a petty complaint but in a game that was eventually decided by 3 points, blown calls like this tend to loom large in retrospect.
In the fourth, the teams exchanged multiple lead changes for awhile until again, on their home court, it was the Hawks who held their poise and eventually pulled ahead with the lead. Down the stretch, Boston made some uncharacteristic mistakes, including a bad pass from Garnett that led to a turnover and an ill-advised runner by Rondo that forced the issue on offense and led to another empty result on offense. Of note, Doc Rivers removed Rondo from the game following that play, which was at about the four minute mark, and kept him sitting for the remainder of the game in favor of Sam Cassell. The move was more about making a point to the young floor general than favoring the veteran Cassell, who submitted another off night Atlanta’s court, shooting 2-8.
The other major sea change for Boston was the sixth foul call on Paul Pierce halfway through the final frame. It was a ticky-tack call off the ball while Pierce was fighting for position against Pachulia. Of note, 3 of Pierce’s first 5 calls against him were blocking fouls that could have gone either way. Maybe when Pierce, you know, establishes himself as a player in this league, he’ll perhaps enjoy the benefit of the doubt on these types of calls. Somewhere, I know, Violet Palmer smiles at this weak-ass officiating.
Enter the last two minutes and Joe Johnson connects for yet another big, tightly contested three. After that, the game generally became a battle against the clock for Boston, one that they would lose yet again in Atlanta.
Because the patterns have been somewhat firmly established by now, anyone who has been watching closely has to expect that come Sunday, the Celtics and Hawks will convene again, the Boston Celtics that people have become familiar with this season will show up again in their home whites and appropriately vanquish their inferior opposition. That’s because it’s their turn to have the best of times. This far, anyway, such the tale has remained true.