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They can’t shift to overdrive in the clutch

Hawks have been stretched to limit

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 5, 2012
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It came down to the end - to tension and overtime and chances for big baskets in the final minutes. It came down to who could make the shots when they mattered.

And, just as in Game 2, it came down to the Celtics making shots, the Hawks missing them.

Game 3 came down to the Celtics celebrating, the Hawks mourning, taking only moral victories after a 90-84 overtime loss that wasn’t supposed to be nearly that close.

Even so, the Hawks were again left discussing their inability to finish in the final minutes, their inability to get the ball in the bucket, to execute their offense. Their shots simply didn’t fall, and they weren’t quite sure how to explain it all.

“We definitely feel like we could have won,’’ said Joe Johnson, who was the most effective Hawk, with 29 points and eight rebounds. “We just didn’t come up with some of those big plays in overtime.

“We definitely feel like we let one get away, that this was our chance to get one.’’

Atlanta had the possessions, had the chances. The team just couldn’t score when they needed to, like with the ball and 37 seconds left in overtime. The Celtics swarmed Johnson, knowing they would rather anyone else beat them. It worked, with Willie Green missing a shot.

As Johnson said, “It’s always a tale of two halves. It seems as if they’ve beat us in the fourth quarter in the past couple games.’’

And overtime, when the Hawks were able to score just 4 points, none in the final two minutes.

“I thought they did a better job executing their offense than we did,’’ said 32-year-old Tracy McGrady. “We’ve got to really focus in on that because pretty much in this series every game is going to be close and that’s what it’s going to boil down to - who executes better down the stretch in the ballgame.’’

They were talking about it on the floor, as the fourth quarter wound down. The Hawks knew they just needed a couple of stops, needed a few baskets. They were able to tie it, able to send the game into overtime.

But they couldn’t pull it out.

“I think it’s just down the stretch,’’ Green said. “Boston, they’ve been executing in the last six minutes of the game. If you look at the last two games that they won, we were winning, we kind of had control of the game, and then the last six to eight minutes come in the fourth quarter, and those guys know how to turn it up.

“They push us out and make us take tough shots. They force us to catch it way out so we can’t get into our offense. So we’ve just got to do a better job of spacing and trying to attack these guys.’’

They’ve got to do a better job of getting the shots to fall at the end of the game, too. Simple as that, Jeff Teague said. That’s the difference in the series, in the Celtics being up two games to one.

“We’re giving ourselves a chance and we’re coming up a little short,’’ Green said. “This [the Celtics] is still a great team. Well coached. Disciplined. And those guys know how to win down the stretch.’’

The Hawks believe that they have the ability. But, as a commanding Celtics lead looms, the Hawks have to prove it to Boston and to themselves.

It seemed to go better Friday, at least in Teague’s estimation. The possessions were better. The chances were better. The outcome was the same.

“We had opportunities,’’ coach Larry Drew said. “We were still right there. We wanted to just keep them within striking distance. Once they got the lead, I thought our guys did a phenomenal job.’’

But they didn’t do enough. They allowed too many easy baskets for Rajon Rondo at the end. Their own shots didn’t fall. They weren’t what they needed to be.

“We’ve just got to keep fighting,’’ Johnson said. “We’re still confident. This series is far from over.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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