ATLANTA (AP) - Mike Bibby succeeded in firing up Boston's fans with his mouth.He'll have to do a better job on the court if he's going to give Atlanta's playoff-starved faithful something to shout about this weekend.
The Hawks returned home facing a daunting 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series after a pair of blowout losses in Boston, where the Celtics played like a team that had the NBA's best record - and the Hawks looked every bit like a squad that really doesn't have any business being here.
Much of the focus is on Bibby, who drew the wrath of Boston for saying the Celtics had a bunch of "fair weather" fans who jumped on the "bandwagon" when the Celtics made a remarkable turnaround after being one of the league's worst teams a year ago.
"Never," Bibby said Thursday after an hourlong practice at Philips Arena. "If I said it, I meant it."
He won't have to worry about being heckled in Game 3 Saturday night, when the series shifts to Atlanta, but he must step up his game dramatically if the Hawks are to have any chance in a series that already appears to be a lost cause. Boston won the first two games by an average of 21 points.
Bibby, the Hawks' point guard, has just 17 points and a measly two assists in the series, getting outplayed badly by his Boston counterpart, Rajon Rondo, who's averaging 13.5 points and 8.5 assists.
The disparity is even more striking because the Bibby-vs.-Rondo matchup appeared to be the only one where the Hawks had an edge.
"I put a lot of it on me," Bibby said. "I'll take the blame. I you want to blame someone, blame me. I don't mind. We've got to get some stops, run the ball and attack the basket."
The Hawks look especially disjointed on offense, an area of the game that largely funnels though the point guard, of course. Boston is putting up nearly 15 more shots a game, has made 16 3-pointers compared to just three for Atlanta, and is connecting at a higher clip from the field overall (44 percent to the Hawks' 38 percent).
"We need to make some shots," Bibby said. "We need to take more shots. We had only 60 shots (Wednesday) night. That's not going to get it done. I've got to find a way to get some shots for everybody else."
For starters, the Hawks must cut down on the turnovers. They had 37 in the first two games - 13 more than the Celtics, who showed their defensive prowess by coming up with 21 steals.
Atlanta also must do a better job at the defensive end, having managed only eight steals thus far, limiting their ability to create fast-break points for a team that has plenty of athleticism with guys such as Josh Smith, Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams.
The Celtics have really gone after Bibby, knowing you kill an offense by chopping off its point.
"It's affecting me," Bibby conceded. "It looks like they're trying to get the ball out of my hands. We've got to make some plays. We're not making plays. We're not getting a lot of shots. We're not getting a lot of turnovers. If you don't get turnovers, you don't get that many looks at the basket."
The Hawks haven't been doing much with the few chances they are getting.
"We've got to get more fast-break points," Bibby said. "We've got to go down the court with a purpose instead of just one pass and a shot. We showed when we pass the ball a couple of times, things work out for us. We've got to get back to that."
The Hawks still have the utmost confidence in Bibby, who was acquired from Sacramento just before the trade deadline to bring some stability to a position that has been a glaring weakness in Atlanta for years.
If anything, Bibby's teammates believe he had an ulterior motive when he took a shot at Boston's fans. Now, everyone is staring at Atlanta's oldest starter, a 29-year-old veteran of 53 playoff games. The rest of the NBA's youngest playoff team has been put in a supporting role, where they might feel more comfortable in what is the first trip to the postseason for most of them.
"He's one of the leaders on our team," rookie center Al Horford said. "He kind of felt like he needed to put the focus on himself and take some of the pressure off the younger guys."
They dismiss any suggestion that Bibby's play was affected by the harsh treatment he received in Boston, where fans taunted him with chants of "Where's Bibby?" and "Rondo's better" during a 96-77 rout in Game 2.
"Mike's a veteran," Williams said. "He's been there before. I remember the first game he played for us, the crowd did the same thing to him in L.A. It's nothing new to him. He's been around the league a long time. He's a done a lot. I'm sure it doesn't bother him at all.
"He was just trying to get our guys fired up."
Bibby appears to have done the opposite, awakening a Boston team that had every reason to look past this series after finishing 29 games ahead of the Hawks during the regular season. A message written in the Atlanta locker room - "16 wins to become NBA champions" - looks more farfetched than ever.
"It's hard enough to play on the road," Boston's Kevin Garnett said. "I can't recall ... ever saying anything crazy like that."