After two nightmarish games at Boston, Josh Smith harnessed all of his tantalizing talent in Game 3. He closed with 27 points (including five dunks) and nine rebounds and was one of three Hawks starters to collect six assists. The dunks were as spectacular as the long-range shooting was surprising; in fact, the 6-foot-9 forward, a 25 percent shooter from beyond the arc in the regular season, made as many three-pointers Saturday (three) as he did in the previous 14 games combined. This game goes at the top of the résumé for Smith (right), who is set to become a restricted free agent after the season.
The Celtics' vaunted defense -- like the shot clock in the second half -- malfunctioned. The number of easy baskets the Hawks generated through ball movement and transition opportunities was unexpected, particularly in the first quarter, when they had four layups and three dunks (all from Smith, all electrifying). Along with racking up 24 assists on their first 28 baskets, the Hawks finished the game shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 55.6 percent (10-of-18) from three-point range against a Celtics defense that led the league in both categories during the regular season.
The Hawks' Al Horford has drawn raves all season for a wise-beyond-his-years approach to the game, but he made a rookie mistake in the closing moments. After hitting a jumper with 22.2 seconds left that completed the scoring, the first-year center taunted Paul Pierce. The gesture enraged Pierce, who, during the ensuing timeout, jawed back at Horford and walked toward the Hawks' bench before being restrained by teammate Brian Scalabrine. The Hawks' gamelong exuberance was understandable; after all, they were playing host to a playoff game for the first time since 1999, and this marked the first career postseason victory for several of their key players. But riling up a proud All-Star like Pierce is liable to backfire.
Give the Hawks credit. They're the youngest team in the playoffs, but at least for one night they played with more poise than their well-seasoned opponent (they even looked Celtics-like in their selfless execution). The Hawks also used those young legs effectively, getting out ahead of the Celtics repeatedly for early-offense chances.
A note heading into Game 4 on Monday: The Celtics lost back-to-back games only three times during the regular season.
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