When the proceedings had mercifully wrapped up, however, it was not the Celtics' scoring that was mentioned first. The breakout game by Boston's offense was a byproduct of their defense, with members of both teams marveling at the pressure the Celtics put on, and which the Hawks could not escape.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers and Hawks coach Larry Drew both began their postgame media sessions by pointing to the Hawks' eight first-half turnovers, en route to 17 for the game, as the difference. The Celtics usually aim for around 24 deflections in a game as a good defensive measure, but on Sunday they had that many deflections by halftime.
"Right then and there, with the eight turnovers in the first quarter, we were putting ourselves in a bad situation," Drew said. "I just didn't think we responded very well. We were in a situation where I thought early we missed some shots, but we still had opportunities to keep it right there. We had too many breakdowns in too many areas. Our shot selection was not good, we turned the basketball over, we did not get back defensively and we found ourselves playing catch up basketball the whole time."
Rivers was asked about his team's .513 field goal percentage in the game, and he immediately switched gears.
"Yeah, but our defensive energy is what really got us going," he said.
Defensive intensity normally rises to another level in the postseason, and the Celtics have reflected that to devastating effect against the Hawks. No team has been stingier on defense in the playoffs than the Celtics, who have held the Hawks to 38 percent shooting from the field and 84 points or less in every game. Not even the Miami Heat, who forced 78 turnovers in their first four games against the Knicks, were playing defense at a better rate than the Celtics' 86.4 points allowed per 100 possessions.
The impact made by the defense was clear in Game 3, when the Celtics' shots were not falling and they needed every stop to pull off an overtime victory, but the defense was just as pivotal in the track meet that developed in Game 4.
The Celtics may not have another shooting performance like Sunday's, but as good as their defense has been in three of the four games thus far, a blistering net is just a bonus.
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