Sure, we all got scared. Hell, I nearly cried watching my team, which won 66 games during the regular season, fall three times to the worst team in the playoffs. In the end, though, the greatest thing that could have happened to the Boston Celtics was the difficult series they endured against the Atlanta Hawks.
Although no other team won more than 27 games on the road in the regular season, the Celtics went above and beyond, recording a remarkable 31-10. So, why did the Celtics fall apart in a heated Philips Arena in Atlanta? Simple; the C's were cocky, and for good reason. They had beaten the Hawks in all three regular season meetings, even in hostile Atlanta. After beating the Hawks by 20 points in each of the first two games, and then by 25 more in Game 5, who wouldn't be? They were hot, the home crowd had been excited for its first championship since 1986 and Kevin Garnett looked angry enough to take out anybody in his way of a title. Unfortunately for the C's and much to the dismay of Tommy Heinsohn, the Atlanta crowd wasn't as receptive as the Garden was. The Celtics thought they were invincible, but old, over-confident players can be easily surprised by young, flashy ones.
The Hawks came out with fire, backed up by a crowd that I was pretty impressed with. After all of the trash that Al Horford and Mike Bibby had talked, they finally had the back-up they needed to gain enough confidence to make a run at the Celtics. In the end, after all of the technicals and the childish dancing of Horford, the Celtics were able to hold them off via a 34 point victory, but they learned a valuable lesson along the way: any NBA playoff team can pull off a string of victories against another playoff team given the right conditions, support, and a whole lot of energy and a little bit of luck.
The Celtics are still dominant and they are certainly still confident, but they now realize that they can't take a night off and they have to play with the same fire every night, regardless of the conditions. It was refreshing to see them play such tough defense on LeBron the first two games of this new series, and be able to have enough bench support and depth, two of the concerns heading into the season, to compensate for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combining for 4 points in Game 1.
This new confident yet fearful and fiery attitude is what will carry the Celtics to the championship that KG, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and the rest of the crew deserves. They should be grateful for the Hawks series because it was the one team they could afford to have that experience against; any other team, such as any of the remaining three teams, could have easily won Game 7. Hopefully they will keep the fire because if they lose it, they have no shot at the championship this year.