ATLANTA – Paul Millsap was having the game of his life, scoring at will against a Boston Celtics defense that was totally helpless in slowing him down.
But even as the Hawks’ lead blossomed to as many as 16 points in the third quarter of Game 4, there was something gnawing at the back of Millsap’s mind.
It was the Celtics and their penchant for the comeback.
And that flicker of off-the-mark focus speaks not only to the respect the Hawks have for this Celtics’ team, but also how Boston’s ability to rally from seemingly any deficit was more than just a passing thought to Atlanta.
Boston’s comeback credentials were firmly entrenched in the cranium of this Hawks team, making the Green Team’s come-from-behind Game 4 win in many ways a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Following the Celtics’ 104-95 Game 4 overtime win on Sunday, Millsap was asked about Boston’s track record for rallying from huge deficits and whether the Hawks may have given that some thought in the second half.
Oh they thought about it.
“Maybe too much,” conceded Millsap who led all scorers in Game 4 with a career-high 45 points. “We took our foot off the pedal. I think we maybe pressed, maybe tried to get them out of the game.”
Atlanta wasn’t the first to falter against the Celtics this season after building a seemingly insurmountable lead.
In Boston’s 98-88 win over the Miami Heat in the regular season finale, the Celtics trailed by as many as 26 points before mounting what was the greatest comeback victory in the NBA this season and one of the best ever under third-year coach Brad Stevens.
Boston fell behind by huge margins in both Games 1 and 2 in Atlanta, but rallied to either lead in the fourth quarter (Game 1) or at least make the final margin respectable (Game 2).
There are a number of qualities associated with this group of Celtics, with their resiliency in the face of adversity standing out.
“This team’s not – I think one of our most redeeming qualities as a team is the guys are really … they’re fighters,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “They never give up. They play to the end, even in games where we didn’t really have it they’ve done that.”
Celtics center Amir Johnson echoed similar sentiments about his teammates.
“It’s the NBA and every team is good enough to make a comeback,” Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We have a bunch of guys that can fight; plays hard. We don’t ever believe we’re out of a game; ever. That’s been the story of us all season.”
And with the series now tied at two games apiece, there’s no question this Celtics team still has another chapter or two to write in what has been a season-long narrative of playing until the absolute bitter end regardless of how long an uphill climb might be involved.
Getting down big is certainly not what they’re looking for.
But unlike some teams in the postseason, they are well aware that regardless of the deficit they still have a fighter’s chance at making it a game and more often than not, finding a way to win.