Celtics mascot Lucky runs with a banner during the second half in Game 4 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Hawks at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
If only the Celtics could bottle up the electric, deafening atmosphere from TD Garden and bring all the Celtics fans with them for Game 5, leaning on them like they did in the 104-95 overtime win Sunday.
“I think it’s less about where it is and more about how you play,” the always calm and cool Brad Stevens said Monday. “At the same time, I certainly haven’t been in many playoff environments like the last two games. It was incredible.”
There will no doubt be noise inside Philips Arena for the pivotal swing game in the series but it won’t be nearly as intense as what the Hawks experienced in Games 3 and 4.
As a matter of fact, when the series opened in Atlanta on April 16, there were hundreds of empty seats with neon yellow shirts on them. The Hawks attempted to hide the fact that Atlanta, a notoriously passive sports town, wasn’t fully behind their NBA team in the first round of the playoffs.
The Hawks managed to hold serve at home with wins in the first two games.
When the series shifted to Boston last Friday, the decibel level went through the roof. The Celtics responded with a 37-20 quarter right out of the chute. They held on for a 111-103 win. The crowd rewarded that with an even crazier atmosphere in Game 4, when Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and players Rob Gronkowski and LeGarrette Blount showed up.
The Hawks may not have noticed the Patriotic impact but they sure heard it. When Isaiah Thomas drained a three from the right baseline in in front of Belichick in the final minute of overtime, the Garden was literally shaking.
“Oh yeah, they have a great crowd and they really fed off of it,” Kyle Korver said. “When your crowd’s screaming behind you, the basket seems bigger and there’s a lot more adrenaline, and they played really well here. Give them credit.”
Philips Arena isn’t considered one of the more intimidating environments in the NBA. Will that change in Game 5?
“I think that it’s a good situation, we going back home and our fans will be into it, our energy level will be great,” Paul Millsap said after scoring 45 points in Atlanta’s Game 4 loss. “So, it sucks we didn’t get a game on this road trip, but we still got three games to get 2 and we feel confident about it, especially going back home.”
“I think that obviously there’s great challenges playing wherever you’re playing but you know, when you’re playing on the road, you’ve got to do a great job of just staying in the moment and focusing on the task at hand,” Stevens said Monday. “But I think you’ve got to do that at home, too. You can easily get distracted or too comfortable when you’re at home. We had our moments where we had some real slippage in the last two games, mostly due to how Atlanta was really beating us up and the way they were playing.”
Stevens is more concerned about the Celtics not falling behind 24-3, like they did in the first six minutes of Game 2. He also wants to make sure his team doesn’t get manhandled by the bigger Hawks like they did at times in Games 3 and 4 when the Hawks were making runs.
“They were doing a great job spreading us and moving us and isolating us and getting the matchups they wanted and everything else, and that had a lot more to do with it,” Stevens said.
Of course, if the Celtics can take care of business in Game 5, they will have the chance to give Celtics fans a chance to watch a clincher on Thursday in Game 6 back at the Garden.