BOSTON As Josh Smith sat on the Atlanta Hawks bench, he could see how hard Ray Allen was running to get free for a shot. He could see how alert all the Celtics big men were in setting picks and screens to free Paul Pierce, or how his old prep school running mate, Rajon Rondo, was so deliberate in his dissecting of the Hawks defense. And defensively, the way the Celtics closed out on shooters, prevented others from getting the ball in their sweet spots it left quite an impression on Smith, for sure.
Despite the fact that the C's were whipping his Hawks so soundly, there was still a level of appreciation on Smith's part for how the Celtics went about dismantling the Hawks, 101-79, on Sunday. Boston now leads the best-of-seven series 3-1 with a chance to close out the series in Atlanta on Tuesday.
It was in many ways a clinic on what you need to do in order to win in the playoffs.
And Smith acknowledged the lessons learned Sunday night, he hopes to bring them back to Atlanta for Game 5.
"We have to duplicate what they do," Smith said.
Atlanta's efforts will likely improve with Al Horford now having a game under his belt.
After missing all but 11 games during the regular season, Horford made an unexpected postseason debut in Game 4 on Sunday. He came off the bench and finished with 12 points and five rebounds, seemingly getting stronger as the game went on.
They'll need him to have an even better game on Tuesday.
Ditto for Smith whose left knee injury has him looking like a shell of the player who dominated play in Games 1 and 2, before the knee injury kept him out of Game 3.
"It feels OK," said Smith who still managed to score 15 points on Sunday in addition to grabbing 13 rebounds. "It'll probably feel a little sore tomorrow. That's what happens when you come back from an injury."
Yes he's still hurting and chances are, he'll be hurting when the Hawks face the Celtics on Tuesday.
But he says the injury won't keep him from playing in what may very well be the Hawks' last game of the season.
"It's a must-win game," he said. "I know we're fighting odds now. But it shouldn't be no quit in this team. We have to go out and establish ourselves early and we have to get a win to force a sixth game."
Celtics guard Keyon Dooling expects Game 5 will be the C's toughest this series.
"It's a great opportunity," Dooling said of closing out the series. "I just feel like it won't be an easy task. We gotta come in with the right frame of mind. We have to be focused and we have to go down there and compete. They will be a desperate team. They don't want to go out like this. I think they'll come out clawing and scratching. We have to be prepared to match their energy."