The Atlanta Hawks were on the verge of a commanding 3-1 series lead at TD Garden, holding a 16-point lead in the third quarter of their game four encounter with the Boston Celtics.
Things were looking well for the Hawks, especially with Paul Millsap – whose struggles have been a talking point this series – dominating the game. He finished with 45 points but did not score in the final six minutes and 44 seconds of the game.
“One thing about that is when you score 45 [points] through three quarters, you’re probably going to be a little winded,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said about Millsap’s performance during a press conference following the game.
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Marcus Smart was given the assignment to guard Millsap roughly four minutes into the fourth quarter after several defenders struggled to contain the three-time All-Star. Stevens noted that Millsap scored 19 points in the paint against a multitude Celtics defenders.
“To be honest I was a little surprised because of the height and size advantage he [Millsap] had,” Smart said about drawing the assignment.
“[I was trying] just to really stop and make it hard for him, pressure him, and contest every shot he took.”
The four-inch difference in height and the 25-pound difference in weight did not seem to matter as Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said that Smart and Millsap were “just going at each other.”
Once Smart began contesting Millsap, he remained on him for the final 13 minutes of the game, including overtime. In that time, Millsap scored just four points on two layups as the Hawks were given a boost from Jeff Teague and his string of clutch of three-pointers.
Millsap took the blame for not being aggressive enough down the stretch. However, he did compliment Smart for being a “tough guy” on defence.
The historical context of Millsap’s performance puts him in elite company. His 45-point, 13-rebound and four-block performance makes him the third player in last 30 years to post such a stat line in the playoffs; Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal being the others.
“It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t equal a win,” Millsap said about his performance. “It would’ve been sweet if we could have got the win but it’s pretty much a wash.”
Stevens and Millsap shared similar thoughts about Smart’s defence, saying he was given the job to guard the Hawks forward “at the right time.” However, a seemingly forgotten part of the Hawks’ loss is that it happened in overtime.
After Teague mishandled the team’s final possession during regulation, the Hawks were victims of several clutch shots by Isaiah Thomas. He scored 26 points, including a three-pointer with 30 seconds left in OT to put the game out of reach.
As noted by The Score, the loss is the Hawks’ ninth in the past three years and it’s been 25 months since their last OT victory. With the series returning to Atlanta tomorrow night, the team will focus on improving that statistic if playing past regulation is required once again.
“I think it’s something as a group we have to figure out because we have lost some big games in overtime,” Millsap said. “We have the guys to do it and I think we’re smart enough to figure it out.”