Finishing off the Hawks won't be easy for Celts

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Finishing off the Hawks won't be easy for Celts

BOSTON The Boston-Atlanta playoff series is over.

The Hawks are done.

Doc Rivers understands how easily this mindset can be adopted -- at least outside of his locker room -- following the Boston Celtics' 101-79 romp of the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday in a game that gave the C's a 3-1 edge in the best-of-seven series.

But as slim as Atlanta's chances are at a comeback in the series, closing out the Hawks -- at home or at Atlanta's Philips Arena on Tuesday -- won't be easy for the Celtics.

"You better believe that we're coming," said Hawks center Al Horford, who made his playoff debut this year on Sunday in scoring 12 points to go with five rebounds. "We're bringing it at home. We're looking forward to it."

Only eight teams in NBA history have led a playoff series three games to one, and failed to move on to the next round. The last team to do so was Phoenix, which rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006.

One of those eight teams was coached by Rivers, whose Orlando Magic squad in 2003 -- led by current Atlanta forward Tracy McGrady -- had a 3-1 series lead over Detroit and wound up losing the final three games and the series.

So as much as the Celtics relish the opportunity to close out the Hawks on Tuesday, Rivers and his players speak more about the need to have a great sense of urgency on the C's part heading into Game 5 which is expected to be the toughest game of the series thus far.

"You don't want to give a team any confidence," said Celtics forward Paul Pierce. "You got to go down to Atlanta with the right mindset. You don't want to bring it back to Boston because anything could happen. The NBA is a weird league; one game could give a team confidence."

Said Rivers: "You've got to take them one at a time."

Rivers saw first-hand how going away from that, can blow up in your face.

After that 2003 Orlando team beat Detroit in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead, McGrady started talking about what it would be like playing in the second round shortly after the Game 4 victory.

Word quickly got back to the Pistons, who used it as a rallying cry of sorts that was part of their surge towards advancing in that series and ultimately moving on to the Eastern Conference finals.

These Boston Celtics are a veteran, battle-tested group that understands as well as anybody, the power of words and how they can quickly be transformed into motivation.

"We definitely want to try and finish the series out in Atlanta," said C's guard Rajon Rondo. "We don't want to come back here and play because obviously we need our rest. It's gonna be a good fight. But at the end of the day we want to try and get a win."

And while Rondo is always confident that the C's can emerge victorious, he by no means is taking a Boston win in Game 5 as a given.

"They are NBA players so there is a chance we could lose Game 5," Rondo admitted. "But it's not in our mind. We're gonna go down there and try to take care of business. If we do play the right way like we did (in Game 4), I think we have a great chance of winning the game."

Approaching Game 5 as nothing more than another chance to win, has to be the Celtics' approach going in.

As Rivers can attest, anything deviating from that has the potential for a horrific slump of the likes that this proud franchise has never experienced.

"Go out and play your best, and if you win it, then you move on," Rivers said. "But never look at the finish line; never even talk about the finish line. You talk about the next game, and just playing well."

Blakely: Despite their spot in East, consistency remains a problem for Celtics

Blakely: Despite their spot in East, consistency remains a problem for Celtics

BOSTON –  Devin Booker went on a scoring binge for the ages against the Boston Celtics on Friday night, the likes of which won’t be seen anytime soon at the TD Garden.

The performance was so great, even the most die-hard Green Teamers had to give the 20-year-old props for dropping 70 points – 70 points! – on the Celtics who still wound up winning, 130-120.

And as Booker continued to pour on the points and the Celtics’ double-digit lead remained just that, a double-digit lead, the narrative of what we witnessed was a lot deeper than just some young kid getting hot.

The Suns are trying lose as many games as they can, while throwing youngsters out there like Booker to play major minutes and predictably make their share of mistakes with the goal being to learn from those miscues and get better.

But the true lesson in what went down Friday night had little to do with Booker’s big night or some Celtics being a little salty about it afterwards.

Lost in all of the hoopla surrounding Booker’s big night was the repeated revelation by Celtics head coach Brad Stevens after the game about his team’s play and their record not being on one accord.

“That’s why, like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”

And Booker’s historic night is the latest example to illustrate Stevens’ point.

Not having Avery Bradley (sickness) was a factor, obviously.

But that’s no excuse for the way they allowed Booker to do anything and everything he wanted to on the floor, allowing a really good shooter to gain confidence to the point where there was literally nothing the Celtics could do to cool him off.

The Celtics looked casual for three-plus quarters defensively against the Suns and still managed to win which says more about Phoenix and its desire to lose as much as possible, than Boston’s ability to find success and overcome a player with a hot hand.

It was another case of Boston getting away from what works while settling into what felt good and easy.

Most of the guys Phoenix played on Friday weren’t players you would consider big-time scoring threats, so the Celtics defensively didn’t play with a defensive edge other than the first six minutes of the game.

In that span, Phoenix didn’t make a single shot from the field while Boston bolted out to a 16-3 lead.

From there, the Celtics didn’t play with the same sense of urgency.

Fortunately for them, they were playing a team that didn’t want to win.

That’s not going to be the case in these remaining games, a mixture of playoff-bound clubs, wannabe playoff-bound crews and a few others with rosters full of players fighting to stay in the league who will use these remaining games essentially as an audition for next season.

If Boston plays like this in any of their remaining games, they’ll most likely lose.

And that’s why Brad Stevens continues to harp on this team not being as good as their record.

Because when you’re in the same class record-wise with teams like Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland and Houston, there’s a certain expectation of consistency you should play with most nights.

The Warriors and Rockets have explosive scorers; the Spurs play elite-level defense most nights and the Cavs have LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Those factors form the basis of their consistency in terms of winning and overall play.

But the Celtics are very much a wild and unpredictable bunch, able to knock off Cleveland and Golden State, but get blasted by Denver and lose to Philadelphia.

If inconsistent play is a hallmark of this team, their potential for having a great season will be remembered as just that, potential.

Because games like the one they played on Friday against Phoenix on more nights than not, will result in a loss which could put the Celtics very much in the crosshairs for an early playoff exit.

Five takeaways: Booker's 70 puts focus on C's lack of D

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Five takeaways: Booker's 70 puts focus on C's lack of D

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