ATLANTA – Ty Lawson lost the ball off his foot with 35 seconds in the game and Josh Smith scrambled to grab it, then finished with a dunk and drew a foul to seal a 108-104 win for the Atlanta Hawks over the Denver Nuggets Wednesday at Philips Arena.
ATLANTA — Dion Waiters insists his last shot hit the rim but everyone else in Philips Arena, including his teammates on the Cleveland Cavaliers bench, saw an air ball.
Five first-round series remain undecided in a postseason with more than its fair share of one-sided match-ups. The Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls all survived elimination in Game 5 victories Tuesday night.
But how much longer can they stave off the inevitable, and are we destined to witness a come-from-behind upset in these playoffs?
It’s certainly possible. Few would have imagined the Memphis Grizzlies would be entering Game 5 at a 3-1 deficit. Perhaps Lionel Hollins’ team is saving its best for last.
Here are the best-guess predictions for whether teams with their backs against the wall have a shot at turning things around.
Chicago Bulls (Down 3-2)
Joakim Noah wasn’t able to make it back for Game 5, but he could make an impact if he can return for Game 6 or a potential Game 7. This series has unquestionably come down to defense with coaches Tom Thibodeau and Doug Collins both content to grind games out at a slower pace.
The Philadelphia 76ers scored just 69 points in their Game 5 loss, so there’s really no reason to believe the Bulls can’t pull out a couple more wins. Even without Derrick Rose, this team can score enough points to win games in this series but probably this series alone.
Prediction: The 76ers can’t underestimate the Bulls, but Chicago is unlikely to last beyond Game 6.
New York Knicks (Down 3-1)
With Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis out for a long time and Jeremy Lin sure to remain sidelined for the rest of the first round, the Knicks don’t have a chance in this series. Assuming each guard were healthy, the point guard position may have been one of New York’s few advantages over the Miami Heat.
As long as Mike Woodson has Carmelo Anthony in his lineup, the Knicks almost always have a chance to win a game—however slim. And there’s always the possibility J.R. Smith will get hot, but no one is counting on that.
Prediction: Don’t over-think this one. This series ends Wednesday night (unless Anthony miraculously pushes it to a Game 6).
Atlanta Hawks (Down 3-2)
The Hawks have found a way to gut out some protracted series over the last couple of years, and this one may be no different. In only his second game back after being sidelined since January, Al Horford made a huge impact on both ends of the floor in Atlanta’s Game 5.
If the Hawks can steal one game in Boston, they’d play Game 7 back at Philips Arena. The odds of winning both games aren’t great, but Atlanta played better in the second half of Game 5 than virtually any other point in the series. If that continues, this is series is still up for grabs.
Prediction: Boston is looking a bit tired, and the momentum is swinging toward the Hawks. Atlanta hasn’t played especially well yet, and it may be due for a couple of solid games. In fact, the Hawks may have a better chance of pulling out the series than any other team on this list.
Denver Nuggets (Down 3-2)
Most pundits didn’t even think the Nuggets would make it this far, especially on the back of a Game 5 win at the Staples Center. Nevertheless, George Karl’s young team is deceptively deep and has plenty of weapons on offense.
If Denver hits its stride at home in Game 6, watch out. There’s no question which team would have the momentum if the Nuggets can pull off a second-straight upset. JaVale McGee has become a force in this series, and the Nuggets are winning the battle at point guard with a combination of Ty Lawson and Andre Miller.
The Lakers still have an obvious edge, but it’s less of an advantage than you may think.
Prediction: The Nuggets can push this to a Game 7, but the Lakers will settle down and win the big series finale.
Memphis Grizzlies (Down 3-1)
This should have been one of the first round’s most competitive series, but the Grizzlies just don’t look like themselves. They’re certainly good enough to come back in this series, but they’re out of sync at the moment.
Of course, nothing could surprise us at this point in a series that’s been truly bizarre. Any prediction would be pointless.
Prediction: Pointless or not, chances are Memphis wins at home in Game 5 only to come up short in Game 6.
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The Celtics took control of their first-round Eastern Conference matchup versus the Atlanta Hawks with a blowout victory Sunday night, 101-79, giving the C’s a 3-1 series lead.
The Celtics set the tone early in Game 4, leading after the first quarter by a score of 32-19.
They never looked back.
Paul Pierce led all Celtics in scoring, netting 24 points. Kevin Garnett led the way with five rebounds, and Rajon Rondo finished with 20 points and 16 assists to get another double-double and propel the Celtics to a Game 4 victory.
The Hawks seemed to quit after going down big after one quarter. Their intensity was suspect to say the least, especially for a crucial NBA playoff game in which they had an opportunity to even the series at two games apiece and essentially gather the momentum before heading back to Atlanta for Game 5.
The infamous quote, “go hard or go home” comes to mind here. Since the Hawks didn’t “go hard,” they find themselves going home to Atlanta for Game 5 down 3-1 rather than tied 2-2.
If they don’t man up and play hard in Game 5, they could be going home for the rest of the season.
The Celtics may lose playoff games down the line. At some point, they may even be eliminated in the playoffs. But there is one thing that you can never say, and that is that the Boston Celtics don’t have heart, that they don’t “go hard.”
And it’s because each and every one of the Celtics players doesn’t want to go home. They play to win, and lately, that is exactly what they have been doing.
Game 5 will be held in Atlanta, Ga. at the Philips Arena on Tuesday, May 8th at 8:00 p.m. ET on TNT. Tune in to see if the Hawks continue to play without heart and if the Celtics continue the playoff rampage.
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The Atlanta Hawks have a nasty habit of blowout losses in the postseason.
In their 27 postseason defeats, beginning with the 2007-2008 season, the Hawks have lost 22 playoff games by double digits. In 12 of those 22 double-digit defeats, the Hawks lost by 20 points or more.
The shocking trend continued in Game 4 of the 2012 first round, in Boston, Massachusetts, where the Celtics rolled the Hawks 101-79 to take a decisive 3-1 series advantage.
The Hawks’ season is on life support, and the squad is pushed to the brink of elimination after losing three consecutive games in the series.
The Hawks should not be in this position. They let the Celtics steal Game 2 in Philips Arena without Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen.
In Game 3, the Hawks took the Celtics into overtime, but they could not muster any offense in that extra period.
In Game 4, Atlanta was never in the ballgame, as Boston could not miss early on and jumped out to a halftime lead of 64-41.
As a result, the Hawks will have to win three consecutive games against the Celtics if they want to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the fourth consecutive season.
These Hawks have overcome adversity before, but this is a daunting task.
In the 2010 first round against Milwaukee, they won two straight elimination games, including the series-clinching victory in Game 7.
But the Celtics are much better than those Bucks, and the Hawks don’t have any answers right now for Boston’s quartet of offensive weapons.
Rondo continues to carve up the Hawks’ defense while Atlanta is playing off him, daring him to shoot and allowing an open passing lane to find teammates. Rondo is averaging 15.67 points and 13 assists per game in this series.
When the Celtics shoot the way they did early in Game 4, no team in the NBA can beat them.
In addition, the Celtics are playing tremendous defense by forcing the Hawks to shoot erratic shots with the shot clock winding down and forcing bad turnovers.
Atlanta is averaging 81.5 points per game in this series. Boston passed that plateau midway through the third quarter in Game 4.
Joe Johnson, the man earning a max-deal with the Hawks, only took four first-half shots. Al Horford, the man who hadn’t played in months, was a bigger part of the offense than Johnson.
While Horford and Josh Smith‘s return for Game 4 were nice going forward, neither player provided Atlanta with an emotional lift, and both struggled from the defensive side of the court.
Unless Atlanta can complete a 180-degree turnaround in Game 5, their playoff run will be over.
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There is a sign outside the Atlanta Hawks’ locker room, large and bold and impossible to miss. It reads, “Talent wins games. Defense wins championships.”
Unfortunately, for Larry Drew’s limping squad, they head to Boston for Game 3 of the NBA Playoffs short of both.
The Celtics came back from an 11-point deficit to capture Game 2 in Atlanta and even the series 1-1, not because of Doc Rivers’ inspirational coaching or superhuman basketball by any member of the team: they won because the Hawks don’t have a big man and can’t push the tempo for four solid quarters.
Al Horford should have been that guy, the solid presence underneath that added an invaluable dimension to the defense. But Horford has been, and will continue to be, out with a torn left pectoral muscle (which is as painful as it sounds).
Horford’s replacement Zaza Pachulia is no two-time All Star, but he was once a dozen-points-a-night guy, so there was no great worry. Then Pachulia went down with the sprained foot (which is even more painful than it sounds).
Pachulia has been sidelined for more than three weeks and is listed as day-to-day. Even if he came back in Game 3 in Boston, there isn’t much hope that Pachulia would be at full speed.
After the Game 1 win, Coach Drew didn’t seem worried about going small. “I’m actually not that concerned at all, to be perfectly honest,” Drew said. “We have played without both guys a number of times. Would we like to have them? Yes. But we’ve been able to play without them, and to have some success without them.”
“Some success” meant lighting it up from outside and getting tons of transition baskets off the break. But if shooters like Joe Johnson and Josh Smith had a cold night, or if a team stopped the break and slowed the tempo, the Hawks struggled, as they did on Tuesday night.
Now, there is more bad news. Smith, who went down clutching his left knee in the fourth quarter of Game 2, has been diagnosed with a strained tendon. While it could have been much worse, a strained tendon in the knee can be as debilitating as a broken femur.
Smith is also listed as day-to-day, leaving the Hawks with Johnson, point guard Jeff Teague, and a cadre of role players who will likely struggle against a healthy and hungry Paul Peirce and Kevin Garnett.
“I’m very concerned about it,” Drew said on Wednesday during a very short shoot-around and film session the team had at Philips Arena before leaving for Boston. “I know Josh is the kind of guy that if he’s just hurting, he’s going to play. He has that kind of toughness. But if it’s a situation where he can’t play, then he won’t be out there.”
And if he’s not out there, the Hawks’ chances of taking a game on the road in front of the always boisterous Celtics fans will fall from slim to dangerously skinny.
The situation isn’t dire just yet. But dire is in the building. If Smith and Pachulia are both on the bench, the Celtics should roll through the rest of the series.
Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith left Tuesday’s Game-2 87-80 loss to the Boston Celtics with a sprained knee, and will undergo an MRI on Wednesday, Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports. The status of Smith’s knee and the timetable for his return is not yet known.
Fortunately for Hawks fans, Smith hurt his right knee, not the left knee that he injured early in March.
However, if Smith can’t return, then the Hawks would be down three quality big men. Centers Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia continue to nurse various injuries, but are fairly close to returning.
Three injuries at once are too much for any team to overcome. The Hawks can’t advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals if Smith’s injury forces him to miss any time this postseason.
Jason Collins would remain the center and Marvin Williams would likely play the power forward position if Smith misses time, giving the Hawks two major liabilities in the starting lineup.
Collins provides little offense outside of an occasional tip-in and Williams’ career has largely been a disappointing after being selected with the No. 2 overall pick back in 2005.
With Horford out almost all season, Smith has carried the load for the Hawks, having a career year. In the regular season, Smith averaged career highs in points (18.8) and rebounds (9.6), but still was snubbed on the all-star team.
Smith is also an accomplished passer and consistently leads the Hawks on the fast break as well as finishing on the break. Smith’s pure athleticism creates matchup problems that the Hawks can exploit and riles up the fans in Philips Arena.
In addition, Smith’s presence on the defensive end of the floor gives the Hawks a premier shot-blocker. Now, the Hawks have a major weakness inside and will have to rely on long jump shots if they want to have a chance.
Without Smith, the Hawks are forced to play a half-court game that ultimately ends in iso-Joe or another one-on-one matchup.
Those old Hawks’ habit of poor shot-selection resurfaced in Game 2. The Celtics played extraordinary defense, particularly in the second half, forcing erratic attempts from the Hawks’ guards.
Atlanta is already playing three guards who each have similar strengths: The three-point line. If the shots fall, then the Hawks will be fine; so far, they’re not.
Shooting guard Joe Johnson, the $120 million man, is shooting 10-for-32 thus far in the series. Point guard Jeff Teague is 11-for-28 in the series with only five assists.
The Hawks lost a game in which the Celtics were without guards Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Now, the Celtics hold home court and Rondo returns.
Atlanta had a chance to take a 2-0 series lead, but blew an 11-point lead and looked shell-shocked for much of the second half.
If Smith is out, the Hawks don’t have much of a chance in Boston.
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Game 1 is of the utmost importance for both teams, and both teams are sure to bring their A-game in their quest for a one-game advantage in the opening series.
The aging Celtics will have to do a few things right to escape tonight’s game with a win.
Here are three keys to a Celtics’ victory.
If the Celtics want any chance at winning this game, they’ll need to start strong in order to keep a hostile Hawks crowd at bay.
The Celtics won 2-of-3 against Josh Smith and company this season, and in the only game they lost, the Hawks jumped out to a 34-27 lead after the opening period. The Celtics were never able to climb out of that hole.
They need to get Rondo firing on all cylinders early, keeping their spacing on the offensive side of the ball to allow the prolific passer to dish out assists.
Avery Bradley needs to catch fire early, specifically when shooting corner threes. Bradley has been a huge part of the Celtics success since the All Star break, and when he’s burying the three from the corner he becomes so much more valuable.
Protect the Boards
Boston finished the season dead last in the NBA in offensive rebounding, pulling down just 7.7 per game. The Hawks finished just two spots above the Celtics but average 2.2 more rebounds, a testament to how poor Boston is on the offensive glass.
If they let Zaza Pachulia and Smith bully them down low on the Hawks’ offensive possessions, it is going to be a rough night for Doc Rivers’ boys.
Kevin Garnett is the reason the Celtics are in the position they are now. If KG hadn’t found the Fountain of Youth in the second half, Boston probably wouldn’t have been able to overtake the Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic.
Since the All-Star break, Garnett has averaged 17 points and 8.5 rebounds. The Celtics will need every bit of that and more to win Game 1.
Garnett is going to be banging around down low with Smith all night, and the game could very well be determined by which player outperforms the other.
This could be Boston’s last run with the Big Three intact. There would be no better way to start off what may be their final playoff run than a victory in tonight’s opening game.
Here is a schedule for the rest of the series.
Game 2 is Tuesday, May 1, in Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3 is Friday, May 4, in Boston, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4 is Sunday, May 6, in Boston, 7:00 p.m.
Game 5 is Tuesday, May 8, in Atlanta, TBD
Game 6 is Thursday, May 10, in Boston, TBD
Game 7 is Saturday, May 12, in Atlanta, TBD
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New York Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire looked solid in his second game since returning from a back injury at Philips Arena on Sunday, scoring 22 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 113-112 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.