HAWKS LEAD: Atlanta takes playoff opener over Celtics

The Hawks defeated the Boston Celtics in the series-opener Sunday night, 83-74. Josh Smith led the hosts with a monster double-double, scoring 22 points and snatching 18 boards. Atlanta, led by Smith’s nine points and five rebounds, came out in the first quarter aggressive and energized in taking a 31-18 lead, and never looked back. The Celtics made a number of runs, especially in the second half, but the Hawks were able to push back and maintain a healthy lead.

The biggest moment of the game came with 41 seconds left in the fourth quarter, when Rajon Rondo got ejected from the game. The Celtics had just cut the lead to 78-74 with just over a minute to play, and on the next Hawks possession, there was a fight for a loose ball, where Smith was on the floor and Brandon Bass barreled in over him in an effort to get the ball. Referee Mark Davis called a foul on Bass, his sixth, and Rondo, who was frustrated with the officiating all night, snapped and ran up to Davis. Rondo’s frustration was questionable considering it appeared to be a clear foul.

“Well, it was definitely a foul [laughter], so that was the right call,” said Smith.

Davis immediately called him for a technical, then Rondo lost all composure and bumped into Davis, leading to yet another technical and the ejection. Because Rondo made contact with the official there is a very good chance he will be suspended for Game 2 of the series. That would be a huge loss considering he was the lone player on Boston’s roster that played with any energy, having 20 points and 11 assists prior to the ejection.

After the ejection, Atlanta hit three of the four free throws assessed to them, and pushed the lead to seven.

“I was upset about the call,” Rondo stated after the game. “And I said something to [Mark Davis]. As I was walking I thought he stopped and my momentum carried me into him…I didn’t intentionally chest bump him.”

“[Doc Rivers] just told me to keep my composure, which I know,” he continued. “I was just out there competing. I wanted to win. My teammates all thought that I was obviously in the wrong. They may see that I bumped him, but I didn’t intentionally bump him. I know the rules.”

Celtics coach Doc Rivers spoke about the play after the game.

“I thought Rondo walked toward Mark, and Mark turned around and they bumped,” said Rivers. “Once you bump an official you’re thrown out…that’s all it was in my opinion, but we’ll see.”

The Rondo ejection and potential suspension will no doubt steal the headlines, but Atlanta’s more than solid play should not be forgotten. The Hawks outrebounded the Celtics 50-41, 11-7 offensively, and held the Celtics to 39 percent shooting, and a bagel from beyond the arc (0-11). Boston turned up the defensive pressure after the first quarter, but the Hawks should expect better offensive production in Game 2, especially from all-star Joe Johnson.

Joe shot an abysmal 3-for-15 from the floor including 0-for-9 from three-point range. Joe’s inability to find his offensive game was troubling, but the Hawks are trying to view it as a positive.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that Joe didn’t shoot it the way we know he’s capable of shooting it, but yet we were able to win the game,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew after the game. As the Hawks move forward they will definitely look to Joe to produce much more, but there is a bit of confidence now that they can beat the Celtics despite an inept performance from their superstar.

Stepping up in a major way for the Hawks were Jason Collins and Ivan Johnson. The two combined for 10 points and 10 rebounds, but it was the effort and intensity they brought on the defensive end that made the difference. “I thought both guys supplied us with great efforts,” Drew said. “I thought Jason did a really good job on Kevin [Garnett], you know Kevin’s gonna score, but we just wanted to make him work for it. I thought Jason did a good job with that.”

About Ivan, Drew said, “He’s a guy with a different motor; he’s an energy guy, a hustle guy and a fiery guy you know, which I truly love.” Both players were able to contest Garnett’s turnaround jumper and keep him from getting easily to the basket on post-moves.

The Hawks will need to look back and bottle up their energy and intensity they had in the first quarter. Atlanta might catch a bit of a break if Rondo gets suspended for game two, but they’ll need to not allow themselves to get lackadaisical. If they keep up their great defensive intensity, and can get a return to normalcy from Joe’s offensive game, the Hawks will have a great chance to take this series, especially with home-court advantage.


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