Daniels had played a grand total of 51 seconds in the first half after not seeing the floor at all in Game 1 of Boston's playoff series against the Hawks. His last meaningful postseason action came six years ago, and not since 2004 had he been more than the third option on a playoff team. What's more, fellow wing reserve Sasha Pavlovic was fresh, having contributed 13 effective minutes in the first half.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers did not react as though it were a mistake, though. Rivers not only left Daniels in, but he even assigned him to cover Joe Johnson, the Hawks' most dangerous scorer. The move was not without risk, to say the least.
"Sometimes, you get lucky or you just have a gut [feeling]," Rivers admitted. "There was no reason to put Marquis in. I mean, Sasha played well. Honestly, I just went with Marquis because I thought, defensively, he may make a difference. It was just a gut call, and he was terrific."
With Daniels out front and Kevin Garnett as the anchor, the Celtics owned the fourth quarter defensively, spearheading Boston's 87-80 victory. The Celtics held the Hawks to 14 points on 4-for-19 shooting in the final quarter while forcing ball-stingy Atlanta to commit five turnovers. Johnson, who scored 17 points in the first three quarters, mustered only five points the rest of the way.
Josh Smith left the game with more than four minutes left with what was initially diagnosed as a sprained left knee, but even before the injury, Garnett had abruptly rendered Smith ineffective. Smith missed all three shots he took and did not get a single rebound in six minutes on the court in the fourth quarter. This came after Smith put together a solid line of 16 points and 12 rebounds to follow up on his 22 points and 18 rebounds from Game 1.
Paul Pierce guarded Johnson for much of the first game, but he was freed of that responsibility by Daniels and Pavlovic on Tuesday. Pierce scored 13 of his 36 points in the final 12 minutes, coming within a point of matching Atlanta's entire scoring output as a team in the quarter. But Pierce was also bailed out by a defensive effort that masked his eight turnovers and 2-for-10 shooting in the second and third quarters. In his mind, the Celtics' defensive stand and his own offensive outburst were related.
"We're a defensive, grind-it-out team," Pierce said. "That's what we've been all year. When the game gets like that, we feel we give ourselves a chance with our defense. We were able to run in the fourth quarter, got out on the break to get us a couple easy ones, and I thought that was huge for us. We played our best defensive quarter there in the fourth, and it ended up being our best offensively, as well."
The last meaningful shot of the game came with 1:16 left. Johnson probed the defense — although probably not as much as he could have — and fired up a shot from about three feet behind the 3-point line. Maybe Johnson could have found a better shot, but based on how the Celtics had defended up to that point, it was understandable that he might have been unsure of his ability to get a better look.
If Rivers had any doubt when he subbed in Daniels early in the fourth quarter, by the end of the quarter he had transferred that doubt to the minds of the Hawks. What began as a gut feeling for the Celtics resulted in a punch to the gut for the Hawks.
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