I don’t know if these things stuck out to you last night. But…
The lingering image I have and will always have of the Boston Celtics' game 4 loss is the Doc Rivers “What the hell is happening, I don’t know what to do, where can I go and hide” face that we saw for the last 6 min of the game when it was clear Ray Allen had no chance of stopping Joe Johnson. What you do, Doc, is something that you have never been able to successfully do in the playoffs in the past. You make what is known as an “in game adjustment”.
Why not play the best defensive shooting (I use that term loosely) guard on the roster: Tony Allen. I know he was cold, but shutting down guys like Joe Johnson is why he is in the NBA, because it certainly isn’t his jump shot.
Why not give Rajon Rondo a turn? Rajon has become a fierce on the ball defender and has shown time and time again this year that he doesn’t back down.
Why not put Paul Pierce or James Posey on Joe? They give up some quickness, but have the size to back off and still get a hand in his face. Also, both have shown that they are capable of being shut down defenders.
The point is, it does not matter which of these options is the right one. It only matters that leaving a smaller, slower, older Ray Allen on Joe Johnson is the wrong one. The worst part of all is that it was clear to everyone watching, except the Celtics, 4 minutes into the fourth quarter. However, in keeping with Doc Rivers playoff tradition, he refused to see the obvious and change things up. How often have we heard great coaches like Gregg Popovich say things like “[ Steve Nash ] is too good to leave a single defender on him for long stretches, you need to rotate to keep guys fresh and to keep him guessing”.
I don’t mean to imply that leaving Ray to be abused was Rivers’ only critical miscalculation. Abandoning his regular season rotation and a seemingly random substitution pattern has done little to help the team. The Ray Allen blunder is just an easy example to point out.
A look at Doc’s playoff history does nothing to help ease the minds of Celtics fans. He is 0 – 4 in playoff series in his 8 year coaching career prior to this series, and is 0 – 2 in game 7’s, losing one at home and one on the road. The only question I can ask is, "How early is too early to start making the Doc Rivers, Marty Schottenheimer comparisons?"
Rivers however, can’t take all of the blame. While it is his job to put players in a position to be successful ultimately it is the players who win or lose games. And while no one Celtic has been particularly bad, no Celtic (possibly other then Rondo) has been particularly great either.
In fact, Paul Pierce looks like he has been watching an old Antoine Walker game tape? All of a sudden, he misses free throws, shoots way too many 3’s, can’t jump, looks for the refs to bail him out all time, and worst of all, has absolutely no mid Range game. That's where he should be killing Marvin Williams, but instead, he either jacks a 3 or goes into what used to be known as the paint, but from now on should be known as Josh Smith's paint, and predictably gets it swatted back. Paul put the Antoine instructional video down and slowly back away! I love Paul Pierce, and maybe he is playing hurt, but I expect more from him. I also expect Sam Cassell to be the calming veteran presence that they brought him in to be. Instead he and Eddie House look like they are playing a game of H.O.R.S.E. (They’re both losing).
Despite all of this however the series is tied 2 – 2 heading back to Boston where the Celtics have thrived all season, and are still the favorites. Also, the Hawks are the type of team that tends to give Boston problems as they are young, freakishly athletic, and when they make shots and keep there composure, they are tough to beat. The Celtics' problems, however transcend this series and pose serious concerns for the rest of the playoffs, if they make it that far.
Also, it is important to note that the Celtics didn’t completely give the game away. Atlanta deserves credit for winning it. The Hawks were given multiple chances to die, both at the start of the game, and toward the end of the third quarter when they trailed by 10. However, they refused and used the energy in their building to take the game by the throat. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith played out of their minds. I just wish Doc and the Celtics had done more to try and stop them.