They wanted it more. Period. End of story. The Atlanta Hawks wanted Game 6 more than the Boston Celtics.
They were first to loose balls. "Every loose ball, they got," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "And made shots after the loose ball. I thought half their scores came off of broken plays, balls rolling on the floor, they pick it up and score."
They were more aggressive on the offensive glass. Though the numbers indicate Atlanta held only a slight (14-13) edge in offensive rebounds, the Hawks' bigs -- namely Marvin Williams, rookie Al Horford (right) and Zaza Pachulia -- were aggressively attacking the backboards in the fourth quarter.
They continued to run their offense deep into that fourth quarter while Boston devolved into an isolation team. "They have been effective doing that," said Hawks coach Mike Woodson. "In Boston, they isolated Paul [Pierce] a lot, and he made a lot of plays. But I thought tonight our defense really geared in on trying to defend one-on-one. That was huge. When you do that, you don't have to help as much. I thought that was a key for us."
Once again, Boston's bench failed to make a significant contribution on the road. The Hawks, paced by Josh Childress (15 points), outscored Boston's bench 26-19. Neither James Posey (six points) nor Sam Cassell (four points) were able to get off.
Rivers has a rule about technical fouls: you don't get them in the fourth quarter. "I can take the first three [quarters]," said Rivers. "You can't get one in the fourth. That's been our rule all year. You can't make up for a tech in the fourth. There is just not enough time to make up the points for it." Pierce broke that rule on Friday when he picked up a T midway through the fourth quarter. Frustrated at picking up his sixth personal foul (or, more accurately, peeved because he felt he was nowhere near the play), Pierce fired his headband towards his feet. According to referee Bob Delaney, throwing your headband -- in any direction -- is an automatic tech. "I said to him, 'Bob, six minutes left in the game, a guy throws his headband down by his feet and we're giving technicals?'" said Rivers. "He said, 'I had to.' He's right. It's a league rule. We know that. They brief us before the season."
As it turned out, the free point meant Atlanta held a two-point lead instead of one with 20 seconds remaining. An errant Ray Allen 27-foot three-pointer sealed the win for the Hawks. "That last play, we probably would have gone for a two," said Rivers.
The Hawks were able to capitalize on Boston's decision to send double-teams at Joe Johnson all night. Specifically, Williams (18 points) was able to capitalize, servings as the primary benefactor from the Celtics' overaggressive defense. "We wanted to fight the double-teams early," said Johnson. "I looked for Marvin early, and he made some big shots."
"He needed a breakout game," said Woodson. "I talked about that in Boston. He picked the perfect time to break out of somewhat of a slump. He made shots, he was more aggressive guarding [Paul] and he rebounded the ball."
This is a potential disaster for Boston. Despite its dominance over Atlanta at home this series (the Celtics have won their three home games by 22.1 points), the pressure to win rests squarely on Boston's shoulders. After all the hype, after all the big-name acquisitions, to lose in the first round -- to a sub .500 team, no less -- would qualify as one of the biggest collapses in sports history.
Let's end with a little levity, shall we? During a timeout in the third quarter, the Hawks game crew put the "Kiss Cam," a popular gimmick in many NBA arenas where the camera zooms in on a couple and holds there until they kiss, on the JumboTron. At one point, the camera spotted a young girl (couldn't have been older than 9) sitting between two boys the same age. One of the boys was wearing a Celtics jersey, the other a Hawks one. The girl looked back and forth at both boys before dumping her drink on the one with the Celtics jersey on and planting a kiss on the cheek of the one supporting the hometown team. Hilarious.
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