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Bob Ryan

This group is on same wavelength

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / April 24, 2008

Yawn. Another night. An other double-digit win.

We've seen it before. Many, many times. It started on Opening Night, when they effortlessly dispatched the Wizards by 20, and it continues in the playoffs, where the Celtics have won the first two games of their first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks by 23 (104-81) and last night's 19 (96-77).

The 2007-08 Celtics are the most subtly and ruthlessly efficient team the Celtics have ever had. Their M.O. is completely different than the methodology employed by all those other Celtics teams of yore, with all those gaudy win-loss records.

When the Russell-Cousy teams beat you badly, you knew it. When the Havlicek-Cowens teams beat you badly, you knew it. When the Larry-Kevin-Chief-DJ teams beat you badly, you knew it. Somewhere in there they'd hit you with a 14-0 or 20-2 fast break-oriented run and the crowd would be exploding and you knew you were getting your butt kicked.

But this team doesn't operate that way.

With this team, you think you're in the game, even if you aren't. This team isn't about runs; it's about stops. Defensive stops aren't sexy. Points are sexy, and points in rapid succession are sexier still.

Students of Atlanta Hawks history should know. The Celtics won Game 6 of a first-round series in 1973 with a devastating fourth-quarter run. The Celtics won the series-concluding fifth game of an Atlanta series in 1986 with a downright surreal 36-6 third quarter that concluded with a run of 24-0 on a Bill Walton trailer dunk.

This team doesn't deal in tsunamis. This team makes you feel as if you're tied up on the beach and the tide is coming in and coming in and coming in, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. They get you with 6-2s, not 14-0s. They just keep making more stops than you, many more, in fact.

If you never looked at a scoreboard last night, you might have thought the Celtics were leading by 10 or 12, when, in fact, they were winning by 18 or 20. It's an amazing phenomenon, and it happens all the time.

Last night's victory was the 47th by 10 or more points this season. That's 47 wins out of 68 by 10-plus, and that is a simply amazing stat. But in most of them the vanquished foe came away thinking that if only we had done this or that at a particular time, we could have won the game.

It's ridiculous, of course. The Celtics are very good at making sure you're not in the game. And we know for sure the Hawks have not been in either of these games, although they did make some progress last night.

On Sunday night, their only lead was 2-0. Last evening, they led the Celtics as late as 7-5. At this rate they might actually win the 17th game in a best-of-35.

The Atlanta Hawks are young and, as we like to say, athletic. They've got four young bigs, as we like to say, under the age of 24. One of them, Josh Smith, is capable of some astonishing athletic feats. In each game he has made a sensational block at one end and then beaten every Celtic down the floor for a basket at the other end. The Celtics don't have anyone in that category.

But does he know how to play basketball? Ah, no. Not yet. And he's not alone.

The Celtics do. They know how to make life easy for each other on both offense and defense. We need look no farther than the assist totals. The Celtics had 23 assists on 35 baskets. The Hawks needed 46 minutes to get their 10th assist. With them, it's been strictly my turn, your turn, my turn, my turn, my turn basketball.

OK, we know a coach has got to be a coach, so after two games, here's what concerns Doc Rivers.

1. There are a few too many jump shots for his taste. "We had one stretch where we went 6, 7, 8, 9 times down the floor taking jump shots," Rivers said. "If everything's jump shots, we're playing wrong. We need to mix in some posts and drives."

2. "Too many silly fouls," he pointed out. "We're giving them free throws with three or four seconds left on the [24-second] clock, 30 feet from the basket."

3. "We're not closing out quarters well," he said. "We're getting away with it, but that allows teams to stay in the game. They're a young, aggressive team. If you give them hope, you're playing with fire."

All this is correctable. If you're the Atlanta Hawks, it's not so simple.

The Celtics are beating them in every way possible, starting at the point guard position, where Rajon Rondo is embarrassing Mike Bibby, who is being targeted by the Garden patrons after being quoted as calling them, among other things, "fair-weather fans." In the first two games, Rondo has 27 points and 17 assists. Bibby has 17 points and two assists, and he's shooting 4 for 17 from the floor.

But it's worse than that. Rondo has been a major disruptive force on defense,

"He's playing terrific," saluted Rivers. "He's pressuring the ball as well as he's done all year. There have been times they've come out of a timeout and can't get in to their stuff because one man is on the ball."

The game's outcome never being in doubt after the first quarter, the crowd amused itself by in the second half by serenading Bibby. They started with, "Bibby [You Know What]." Then it was "Where is Bibby?" when he sat on the bench early in the fourth quarter. Next they chanted, "Bib-by." They concluded with a rollicking "Rondo's bet-ter."

It's not like there was ever any suspense, or anything to worry about. The Celtics took the Hawks out of everything, harassing them into 22 turnovers, good for 24 Celtics points. And how often does a modern NBA team make zero threes? Or attempt the ridiculously low number of five? You think the Celtics' defense might have had something to do with this?

So what if Kevin Garnett had a rare off night shooting (6 for 18)? So what if the Celtics shot a modest 41.7 percent from the floor? So what if the biggest Celtic run in the final 38 minutes of the game was 10-4?

You don't need any big waves when you are a tide that is coming in and coming in and coming in.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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