BOSTON - Josh Smith couldn't buy a jumper, Mike Bibby was completely overmatched and Joe Johnson was held in check for the most part. Normalcy returned in Boston.
2008 NBA playoffs
- Pistons polish off Sixers in Game 6
- Rosen: Pistons find another gear
- Kahn: Deadline deals were duds
- Goodman: Celts get swagger back
- Kahn: Butler does it all for Wiz
- Hill: Suns should keep D'Antoni
- Kahn: End of an era in Phoenix
- Rosen: Suns' fun-'n'-gun done?
- Kahn: Paul, Hornets make history
- Western Conference playoff central
- Eastern Conference playoff central
- Best shots from the first round
- Playoff preview: Spurs-Hornets
- Avery: 'It's time for somebody else'
- Kerr: 'D'Antoni is our coach'
After two games in which the Atlanta Hawks actually made people contemplate whether the Big Three was going to get out of the first round, the Celtics regained control of their best-of-seven series with a convincing 25-point victory in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Did you really think the Hawks, winners of a mere 37 regular-season games, were going to mirror what the Golden State Warriors did a year ago and knock off a No. 1 seed in the first round?
Not gonna happen.
Maybe the Celtics needed a wake-up call. Maybe one wasn't enough and they needed a pair. Now Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen head to Atlanta with a 3-2 series advantage, and they'll put this young and talented Hawks team away.
Whether it's in Game 6 or Game 7, it's inevitable that Pierce will get out of the first round for the first time in six years.
Everyone except for the Hawks counted on this series lasting four games. After all, it was the team with the best record in the NBA against a club that wasn't even supposed to be here. Three Western Conference teams that didn't even make the postseason finished with a better record than Atlanta.
But the Hawks made certain the brooms were placed back in the closet. In the previous two games in Atlanta, it was the Smith-and-Johnson show. Smith, not exactly known for his long-range shooting prowess, made 3-of-6 from beyond the arc in Game 3 and Johnson sparked a monstrous comeback win in Game 4 with 20 points in the fourth quarter.
Smith finished with 18 points in Wednesday's loss, but he was 4-of-13 from the field and was ineffective from the perimeter. Bibby scored just 6 points with 1 assist and 3 turnovers, and most of Johnson's damage (13 of his 21 points came in the second half) came too late.
"We're two totally different teams at home and on the road," Smith said. "We don't play together on the road. When the game starts to slip away, everyone goes their separate ways. We've got to keep our composure."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers' game plan to double-team Johnson worked to perfection. The Celtics looked like the same team that won 66 regular-season games on Wednesday night. They defended in the half court and also got back in transition, controlled the glass (39-28 rebounding edge), took care of the basketball (one turnover in the first half) and received contributions from more than just the Big Three.
Pierce, Garnett and Allen did their part, finishing with 61 points and 17 assists. Pierce looked plenty healthy and managed a playoff-high 22 points.
Sam Cassell and Leon Powe had a combined 16 points midway through the second quarter, and Rajon Rondo shut Bibby down and also finished with 12 points and seven assists without a single turnover.
"Every single player gave us a lift," Rivers said.
"There was no panic," the veteran Cassell said after the win. "We weren't down in the series."
At one point, the outcome appeared in question after Hawks rookie Al Horford buried a 17-footer with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter to cut the deficit to six points.
But that was when the Big Three responded. Garnett went first, with a bucket inside that made it 62-54. Allen followed with a trifecta from the left side, and Pierce's drive pushed the lead back up to 13 with 4:40 left in the third.
This was the same team that Danny Ainge envisioned when he paired Pierce with Allen and finally Garnett in the offseason. It's the same one that many experts have predicted will hang championship banner No. 17 in the rafters.
The swagger is back, and the only sign that Pierce was flashing as he walked off the court was a smile.