So it's 2-2 in this protect-your-turf series, and now it's the Celtics' turn to demonstrate the validity of the much-discussed Home Court Advantage.
Game 5 with the Atlanta Hawks takes place tonight (8, SportsChannel). People connected with the Celtics think it would be a good idea if the team would stop committing turnovers. It's easier to score when you're taking shots at the basket.
The Celtics committed 19 turnovers on Sunday and 22 more on Monday. The Hawks turned those giveaways into 46 points. During the 118-109 Atlanta victory in Game 4, the Hawks picked up 30 points in the aftermath of Boston turnovers to Boston's 6 from a paltry 9 Atlanta turnovers. That was the obvious difference in the ballgame.
The Celtics are averaging 76 shots per game against the Hawks. Considering that Wilt Chamberlain once took 63 all by himself, that's a startlingly low figure. True, the Celtics are marching to the foul line with regularity, both home and away. But the free throws can't make up for the fact that the Celtics are squandering a 52 percent shooting mark in this series simply because they aren't getting off enough shots.
Addressing himself to the turnovers, K.C. Jones said yesterday, "It has to do with a lack of concentration. We're trying to make the creative pass too often. If you don't get away with it once, you should stop. They're playing the passing lanes well and, when they intercept, those passes are made to order for fast breaks."
He was asked if he had a solution.
"If I did," he said, "I'd patent it. All I can do is bring it up to them."
A closer look at the 79 Boston turnovers against the Hawks reveals that a surprisingly high percentage of the give-backs are resulting from traveling violations (13) and offensive fouls (6). The former can be partially attributed to a much tougher brand of Atlanta defense in The Omni than the one on display in Boston Garden. Good defensive pressure will cause some missteps. Conversely, Dominique Wilkins has been called for traveling seven times.
The offensive fouls?
"It's a combination of just about everything," says Larry Bird. "Sometimes people are going one-on-one. Other times it's when guys are setting picks, which isn't so bad. It shows they're trying to help somebody else, anyway."
A second Boston concern is defense. The Hawks were shooting far too many open jump shots in The Omni. "You watch," promises Bird. "Those shots will be contested in the Garden. And not by just one guy, but by two or three."
Danny Ainge agrees. "The defense is making one or two rotations instead of three," he contends. "They're getting too much time on their spot-up shots."
The Celtics admit they're surprised to be back here in a 2-2 state. They expected to win at least one game in Atlanta. "I thought for sure we'd play better than we did," Bird confesses. "Atlanta did play well, but I really believed we'd go out and win one down there."
The Celtics failed in the task for many reasons. The fact is the Hawks played two excellent ballgames, during which they shot better from the outside than they did in Boston, defended better all-around than they did in Boston and got far more out of Wilkins than they did in Boston. Given the recent history of the rivalry, however, probably the most important thing the Hawks did was finish strongly in Game 4 after the Celtics had erased 17/19ths of a major third-quarter deficit. By refusing to blink at the moment of truth, the Hawks gave Atlanta journalists a chance to write nice things about their intestinal fortitude, which is a refreshing departure from the norm down there.
Just think what literary heights could be attained if the Hawks were to end their 13-game losing streak in the Garden. Bird, for one, can't quite picture this.
"We know what we've got to do to win," he reminds one and all. "And we've got the home court. It's been important ever since I've been in the league and it will continue to be that way."