Although the Hawks claim to be ignoring the media, and all the talk of the Boston Celtics being the favorite in their first round playoff matchup, Atlanta certainly played with a chip on their shoulder in the first game of the series last night at Philips Arena.
“We have a quiet bunch,” Hawks head coach Larry Drew Said. “They won’t say much. They will never give any indication that they are upset or that they feel any disappointment.”
Atlanta let their game and their raucous fans do the talking as they climbed out to a big lead early—pushing the gap to as much as 19 in the first half—while managing to keep the Celtics at bay for the rest of the game.
“We don’t listen to the naysayers,” Joe Johnson said after the game. “The game is played out there on the court, not on paper. We are going to do whatever it takes to try to advance to the next round.”
The Celtics struggled in the first half, shooting just 36.6 percent. Garnett was an abysmal 1-of-9 from the field.
“We didn’t play like us,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “But give them credit. Defensively they were terrific.”
One thing the Celtics did do well was pressure Joe Johnson. Johnson went 3-of-15 from the field, and he failed to connect on all nine of his three-point attempts.
“I missed a bunch of wide open shots that I normally make,” Johnson said. “I’m sure Game 2 will be a lot different. I’m just glad guys like Jeff [Teague] and Josh [Smith] were able to carry us down the stretch.”
Josh Smith led the way for the Hawks, scoring 22 points and snagging a career playoff high, 18 rebounds.
“When [Smith] is playing with that type of energy, when he plays with that type of rhythm he just makes us so much better,” Drew said. “He does so much out there. Things that may not show up on the stat sheet…He just played a monster game.”
The Hawks also got a good boost from their bench as they outscored the Celtics’ reserves 17-4.
“We need those guys to be aggressive,” Johnson said. “Our bench is going to have to play a big role in this series.”
The Hawks seemed to benefit from the hot stretch they experienced at the end of the season. Atlanta won four of their last five regular season match ups, earning them home court advantage and momentum. The effects of both were on display last night.
Game 2is set for Tuesday at 7:30 in Atlanta.