BOSTON – For so many games, the Boston played without any thought to the scoreboard.
No matter how big the deficit, no matter how deep into the game things got and they had to play from behind, there was never any question about their ability to fight back and compete and on many occasions, emerge victorious.
You saw that same fight and grit from the Celtics in the fourth quarter of Game 6, after having fallen behind by 28 points only to be within 95-83 with 3:16 remaining after a 3-point play by Isaiah Thomas.
Boston came within 10 points (96-86) with 1:48 to play, but quickly gave up a 3-point play at the other end that pretty much put the game away for the Hawks.
Throughout this series, the Atlanta Hawks proved themselves to be a different kind of opponent for Boston, a team that played a similar brand of basketball as the Celtics … only better and more experienced at it.
Those were just some of the factors that played a pivotal role in the Celtics never mustering up enough positive plays in a series that is now a thing of the past after Atlanta’s 104-92 Game 6 victory at the TD Garden.
Atlanta now moves on to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Meanwhile the Celtics will have several months to ponder the usual “what if …” that teams whose season ends sooner than expected, think about.
What if Avery Bradley were healthy for more than three-plus quarters?
What if Kelly Olynyk’s sore right shoulder injury not flare up again in the series?
What if the Celtics had been pared against Miami or Charlotte instead of Atlanta following their four teams finishing in a tie?
For Boston, it was a night that in many ways symbolized what kind of series this has been for them.
Atlanta had a collective, across-the-board effort to keep the ball out of Isaiah Thomas’ hands as much as possible.
And more games than not, it worked.
He finished with 25 points on 9-for-24 shooting.
It meant other Celtics had to step up and contribute, something the Celtics did very little of throughout the series.
On Thursday, the Celtics got a nice lift from Jonas Jerebko who scored Boston’s first five points and helped Boston jump out to a 9-5 lead. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting.
But that would be as good as it got for the Celtics who eventually fell behind by nearly 30 points in what was the most important game of their season.
Every time the Celtics would make a play that got the crowd involved, Atlanta would counter with a basket of their own.
And when it came to the 50/50 hustle plays, Atlanta won that game as well.
As much as the series will be remembered for what the Hawks did defensively against Thomas, it will also be remembered for Boston’s inability to make the most basic basketball play – an open jumper.
But the Celtics made things mildly interesting in the third quarter when they cut Atlanta’s lead to 73-59 following a 3-point play by Marcus Smart.
The Hawks went on to score the final seven points of the third which included a buzzer-beating jumper by Al Horford that gave the Hawks a 21-point lead going into the fourth.
From there, the Hawks did just enough to get the win while sending the Celtics home for the season with a first round exit for the second year in a row.