EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 29, 2008

Doc, KG will be wearing goat horns if stunning slide continues


Bill Burt

We've seen this before. And quite frankly, many of us are not over it yet.

The Boston Celtics losing to the Atlanta Hawks is akin to the New England Patriots losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

I'm not going to predict it will happen, in fact, I believe the Celtics will win this series. But I'd be more surprised if it didn't go seven games.

I'll be honest, I am intrigued by what lies ahead, specifically tomorrow night. The Celtics have not been in such dire straits since those darn ping-pong balls went wacky in Secaucus, N.J., last May 22.

They lost a few here and there, but not like this. Not against the Atlanta Hawks. Two straight after seemingly toying with coach Mike Woodson's crew in the first two games of their opening-round series.

Last night's 97-92 loss in Game 4 to even up the series was baffling. The Celtics were dreadful from the foul line, 10 for 18, with Paul Pierce just 4 for 8. And they missed about 10 shots from layup distance, including three easy misses by Rajon Rondo.

But what was even more baffling was the fact that the Celtics, after a quick 16-3 lead that had KO punch (for the game and the series) written all over it, looked like a team that hadn't been to the playoffs before. Come to think of it, that's just who they are.

For some reason, coach Doc Rivers has shortened the bench. Tony Allen and Glen "Big Baby" Davis, two sparkplugs throughout the season, have been no-shows. And poor Eddie House, the best shooter on the team, looked scared with stats to prove it (0 for 2).

Rivers didn't appear to make any adjustments in the second half to stop Joe Johnson (35 points) other than some weak double teams.

On offense, the Celtics got some "looks," but not enough easy hoops, which has come from their unselfish passing.

Kevin Garnett had 20 points and nine rebounds, but he didn't play that well. He started to imitate Paul Pierce with forced one-on-one drives. But the difference is that Pierce finishes them or gets fouled most of the time.

Give credit to the Hawks, who trailed by 10 points after three quarters. As we found out in Glendale, Ariz., nearly three months ago, they are getting paid, too.

As has been noted here a few times over the last week, this Hawks team, while among the youngest in the league, has talent. Josh Smith (16 second-half points) and Johnson (20 fourth-quarter points) are very good NBA players. And Mike Bibby, when he plays like he did on Saturday and last night (18 points), is a top-10 point guard.

The Hawks are young and athletic and they met every challenge, including a 13-point deficit four minutes into the game. I didn't know people from Atlanta cared about anything other than peaches and golf.

Then I remembered last night that they did care nearly two decades ago when the Hawks were guided by Dominique Wilkins. In the end, though, the Hawks always lost the big one.

As of tonight, I'm not so sure.

My guess is the Garden will be rocking tomorrow night. The Celtics will probably beat the Hawks by 20 again, breaking away in the fourth quarter.

But from what I saw the last two games, there is no reason to believe the Hawks haven't cracked some Celtics code — let Rondo shoot as much as he wants — and repeat what they did before a raucous home crowd in Atlanta.

Imagine a Game 7? Against these unproven guys?

Hey, even the great Celtics teams in the '80s were forced to Game 7s. But I just can't remember a 37-win team like the Hawks even making it interesting.

Before writing the Hawks off in six or seven games, here's something to remember over your Cheerios this morning. Bibby didn't score a point in the second half surge and Al Horford, maybe Atlanta's most consistent all-around player, had only four points for the game.

In other words, the Hawks have some improving to do.

Several Celtics will need to join them.

But none more than Doc Rivers, the runner-up to Byron Scott as NBA Coach of the Year, and Kevin Garnett, an MVP contender, who have been disappointing a little too early into the playoff season. Both are in dire need of not only a good series, but a good run to the NBA finals.

This will be interesting few days. I guess that's better than boring.

You can e-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

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Giant-killers

The Hawks are looking to become only the fourth No. 8 seed in NBA history to beat a No. 1 seed:

Year%No. 8%No. 1%Result

2007%Golden State%Dallas%4-2

1999%New York%Miami%3-2

1994%Denver%Seattle%3-2