Observations: When the game began, the air in the arena was a smoky haze -- presumably from pre-game fireworks. It made it look like an old photograph, from back when either cameras were fuzzy or there was a lot of cigarette smoking at basketball games. ... After Mike Bibby started 1-5, I swear I saw the Celtics leaving him open, daring him to shoot in the third quarter. He obliged by missing twice on the same possession to get to 1-7. ... Josh Smith's block of Leon Powe was fantastic. Powe's later redemption dunk was even better. And did you see Kevin Garnett attack Powe after that dunk? I am not kidding, Powe looked just a little scared of his own teammate afterwards. (ESPN's Chris Sheridan: "Almost looked like one of those school-yard brawl videos you see on YouTube, two guys raining punches down on a hapless victim laying sprawled out on the floor. Only thing was, the punchers and the punchee were all wearing white and green. And the guy on the receiving end, Leon Powe, was finding himself pummeled with love by teammates Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell. 'At first I thought [Garnett] was going to help me up, then he gave me like two, three, four, five, six Roy Jones punches,' Powe said of the mock assault he had to endure after slamming home a dunk over Josh Smith and Mike Bibby midway through the fourth quarter of Boston's 104-81 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. 'Sam might have snuck about two in there.'") ... Judging by my TV, that Boston crowd was one of the loudest anywhere. And smart: whereas fans in San Antonio yesterday routinely cheered for calls against the Spurs (before realizing what happened) Celtics fans started cheering when their players got the ball in position to score. They already knew what was coming next.
TrueHoop reader Trieu: "Almost everyone's predicting a sweep, and that's understating the disparity between the teams. The Celtics are one of the best teams ever and the Hawks are a bad team. That these two teams have been placed in the same playoff bracket is nothing short of historical anomaly. Here's one fun exercise: The Celtics point differential this season was 10.3. The Hawks point differential this season was -1.8. So the "square" differential (the point differential between their point differentials) between the two teams was 12.1. To put this in perspective, here are some imaginary 2008 playoff match-ups that would be similarly (or even MORE) competitive, based on point differential: Detroit Pistons vs. Charlotte Bobcats (11.8), Orlando Magic vs. NY Knicks (12.1), Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat (11.5), New Orleans Hornets vs. Minnesota T-Wolves (12.1), San Antonio Spurs vs. LA Clippers (12.1), Phoenix Suns vs. Memphis Grizzlies (11.2). Now imagine if any of these pairings were actually to play a seven-game series. Try hard, because it seems kind of ridiculous. Concentrate. Got it? Now that's what's happening between Boston and Atlanta."
SLAM's Lang Whitaker is an avowed Hawks fan, and he speaks for those who think the referees played a noteworthy role in this game: "I knew Atlanta was in trouble when I saw Steve Javie, Luis Grillo and Jim Clark all working the game. Talk about a murderer's row. Calls that went against Atlanta before I gave up writing them down: Bibby shoved into front row w/ no call; Posey sliding in for a charge call against Smoove; Bibby crushed on a lay-up attempt; Powe slapping Smoove's arm without a call; Powe grabbing Marv on a baseline drive; KG shoves Salim into Cassell for a foul on Salim; Kendrick Perkins tackling Josh Smith; KG diving atop Childress as he fought for a loose ball. Jim Clark might as well have been wearing a Celtics jersey."
Sekou Smith of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Hawks forward Josh Smith had a rough Saturday night at the team hotel, struggling to get much sleep while battling an itchy allergic reaction to something he ate at the hotel. Sunday night wasn't much better, as he picked up two quick fouls and sat the entire second quarter of his first playoff game, the Hawks' humbling 104-81 loss to Boston at TD Banknorth Garden. 'I was too amped up and I knew it was going to happen,' Smith said after scoring just six points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots in his 24 minutes of action. 'Now that I have a game under my belt, I'll be able to come back under more control and play a better game. But I never could find my rhythm [Sunday]. By the time I got back in the game they were all over us and it was tough to get going.'"
Peter May of The Boston Globe: "A fine mess. That's what's going on with the Atlanta Hawks. And we're not even talking about the fact that they stand no chance of beating the Celtics, Josh Smith's callow exuberance notwithstanding. No, we're talking about the unending ownership battle between Boston's Steve Belkin and his former allies who, it might be hard to remember, were unified at one point. Now, after two court rulings and nearly three years into the legal battle, there still is no end in sight to a rather important question: Who really owns the Hawks? (And, for that matter, the Thrashers and Philips Arena.)"
Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "The famed Larry-Dominique shootout May 22, 1988, lives on in song and story in these here parts, and why not? The Celtics won. ... What people in Boston don't realize is just how utterly devastating that loss was to the Hawks. A victory that day would have put them in the Eastern Conference finals for the only time since the team relocated from St. Louis in 1968. It would have validated professional basketball in Atlanta in a way that, curiously, still never has happened. It remains, frankly, the great what-if? in Atlanta sports history, or so it would seem."
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Rajon Rondo out-veteran-ed Mike Bibby. The Atlanta point guard still leads Rondo, 10-2, in years of NBA experience. He's up, 52-1, on Rondo in career playoff games. But the Celtics [team stats] lead the first-round series, 1-0, largely because Rondo was more under control -- and simply better -- while playing six few
er minutes last night. And the result of this coupling has to concern the Hawks perhaps more than anything else that befell them on the parquet in the Celts' 104-81 Game 1 victory."