I have to say, I had bad feelings going into that Game 7. Very bad feelings. The same bad feelings that popped up immediately prior to the NBA draft lottery last year. And we know how that turned out.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what would feel worse Ė that horrible culmination of a long eight months of failure (and the loss of Red and D.J.) that ended with the Cís missing out on a canít-miss draft class, or losing in Game 7 to the Hawks in what many would have called the biggest upset in NBA playoff history.
Thankfully, the Celts didnít make me have to go through that morbid exercise.
It was a methodical and brutal dismantling of a Hawks team I was so worried may find lightning in a bottle and take the series clincher, and makes me wonder why I even entertained those tortuous thoughts in the first place.
This one was over midway through the first quarter when Paul Pierce answered a Joe Johnson spree with one of his own, hitting a three and putting the Cís up 27-16. After that shot, and the sustained defensive intensity (highlighted by a brutally efficient Kendrick Perkins), I no longer felt the need to pop those Rolaids like popcorn.
Still, you have to give the Hawks credit. They made it a series when no one gave them a chance. They gave the Celtics a glimpse of their own mortality. They gave the city of Atlanta something to rally around. They gave me heart palpitations.
Iím sure many Atlantans will play the "what if" game after that blowout Ö surely Josh Smith left his game in the Peach State, Bibby was once again rattled by the crowd he stirred against him, and the team as a whole lacked the fire needed to win the ultimate prize.
But even though those are true, the Celtics look like they werenít going to be denied in this Game 7. The hope they gave the Hawks late in Games 3, 4, and 6, which led to a confident opponent down the stretch that the Cís couldnít put away, was not to be had this time. The Cís were going to rotate crisply on every defensive possession, attack the paint on every offense possession, and make sure every loose ball had a guy in a green jersey grabbing it out of the air or diving all over the floor to get it.
This was the team that won 66 games during the regular season, that dominated their playoff games at home. That other team, the one that lost all semblance of what got them there once they were on the road? Who knows where those guys came from, or when theyíll show up next.
All I know is that a crisis was averted, and itís on to the next round, where a whole new source of heartburn awaits in Cleveland.