The Boston Celtics will not fold. Behind Isaiah Thomas and a monster fourth quarter from Marcus Smart, the Celtics came back from 16 down to stun the Atlanta Hawks in Game 4, 104-95. Thomas had 28 points and six assists as the Celtics evened the series at 2-2.
In a series defined by otherworldly individual performances, Paul Millsap's monster night wasn't enough for the Hawks. He had 45 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in the loss.
The Hawks led 48-46 after two quarters in a first half full of runs, despite turning the ball over eight times. The Hawks couldn't shoot, but led thanks to Millsap. He kept pouring it on in the second half as the Hawks opened the half on a 14-0 run to streak to a 62-46 lead, but the Celtics wouldn't go away. They fought back from the 16-point deficit on the shoulders of Thomas and trailed only 73-70 heading into the fourth.
Smart scored eight straight points for the Celtics in the fourth to keep Boston in it as both teams traded blows. A Jonas Jerebko three with 1:23 left gave the Celtics a 90-86 lead, but Jeff Teague took over down the stretch. He answered with a three with 50 seconds left and then hit one more with 20.2 seconds to play to give the Hawks a 92-90 lead.
It wasn't enough, however. Thomas drove to the lane to tie the game at 92 with 15 seconds left.
The Celtics found holes in the Hawks defense in overtime, and Thomas hit a dagger from the corner to give the Celtics a 102-95 lead with 30 seconds to play. Boston is heading back to Atlanta for Game 5 on Tuesday with momentum on their side.
Here are three things we learned:
The Celtics offense struggles without Isaiah Thomas, but it doesn't matter if Marcus Smart is playing hero ball
The Hawks outscored the Celtics 18-6 during a seven minute stretch with Thomas on the bench in the first half -- Boston had no offensive firepower when he was on the bench. Thomas didn't quite put up 42, but he was the only instigator in the half-court set. The Celtics can roll when they're forcing turnovers with any roster, but without Thomas to create there isn't much they can do. To their credit, Boston's role players hit more open looks than they did in Game 2, but they still had opportunities they couldn't take advantage of. The Celtics shot 42.6 percent from the field and 11-of-33 from deep. Part of that is due to the Hawks defense, but it comes down to execution, too.
Fortunately for Boston, they were able to execute in the fourth quarter and overtime. Smart had 11 points in the fourth, almost single-handedly leading the Celtics to victory. Thomas makes the offense go, but the Celtics need the rest of the roster to hit shots if they're going to continue to take it to the Hawks. They did on Sunday, and it's the reason Boston's season is alive and kicking.
Paul Millsap is the hero the Hawks need, but he's not enough
He had 26 points and 5 rebounds in the first half. Millsap was averaging 8.7 points per game and shooting 31 percent from the field, but he took over for the Hawks on Sunday. He had 26 points and eight rebounds in the first half on his way to a monster performance. It wasn't only an offensive outburst, Millsap was superb on both ends of the court. He overpowered the Celtics with drives to the hoop, blocks in the paint and shots from deep. No one could contain him.
The Hawks have struggled to hit shots against the Celtics -- they were only 41 percent from the field and 30 percent from deep in the series -- but Millsap made up for it with his monster performance. They were even worse on Sunday -- shooting 37 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from deep -- even with Millsap going off. Even with an superb night from Millsap, the Hawks are heading back to Atlanta having lost two games in a row with an offense struggling to find itself.
Game 5 is going to be fun, too
This series has been weird, and Game 4 kept the trend going. At one point it seemed like whichever team was going on a run when the buzzer sounded would be the team that won. The Celtics have bucked trends all season, and Sunday was no different. They could have thrown in the towel countless times on Sunday, but continued to press. Thomas once again proved to be one of the league's premier guards, and because of it, Boston is still alive. Now, it comes down to a three-game series for a chance to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.