It’s simple, really. The Atlanta Hawks, fully healthy and in a terrific rhythm since the All-Star break, were just a better team than the banged-up Boston Celtics.
If Avery Bradley hadn’t injured his hamstring, if Kelly Olynyk were fully healthy, then maybe this series takes a different turn. The key to the Hawks’ success — both in a 104-92 Game 6 victory and the series overall — was what had keyed their post-All-Star break excellence: defense. They swarmed and smothered the Celtics’ ball movement, collapsed on Isaiah Thomas on every drive, and just generally made life miserable for Boston.
The Celtics, hurt and weary, didn’t have much to give.
Jae Crowder, Thomas, and, save for a few brief moments of brilliance, Marcus Smart were ineffective. Jonas Jerebko, yes, Jonas Jerebko, was the best player on the team on Thursday, doing everything he could to keep Boston in it with his defense and long-range shooting. His best just wasn’t enough.
Not when Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Kent Bazemore are firing on all cylinders. Not when Jeff Teague, hobbled though he may be, is still penetrating at will. Not when Kyle Korver continues to curl off screens and punish from deep, and certainly not when the Hawks clamp their talons down and refuse to give even an inch.
It was a great season for the Celtics, but the Hawks’ isn’t quite over. Let’s see what they have in store for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.