Boston set to brush aside Atlanta

Once the Celtics finish off this opening series, offer warm regards to the Atlanta Hawks.

A slightly less-than middling ballclub, no one expected the Hawks to provide the Celtics much of anything resembling a test. Their perceived role was that of a sparring partner, a collection of so-so talent (and Trae Young) who, as someone once murmured, was just glad to be there.

Four games, a big sigh, and on to the first tee.

They picked off a win at the Garden, which didn’t faze the Celtics in the least. Boston was a bit sloppy and, no doubt, a bit more presumptuous.

Sunday night the Hawks threatened to make it a 2-2 series. They went at it with chatter and elbows, not to mention slugs and a slap here and there.

That is why Celtics fans should feel kindly toward the Hawks. After Boston ends this series Wednesday night, remember that the Hawks stoked the fire in their belly.

Atlanta whined and whimpered its way to a gift or two from the officiating trio, who wisely let both teams engage in a bit of physicality. That’s how playoffs games should be – none of the ticky-tack nonsense that might be whistled on a relentlessly gray Sunday afternoon in Detroit.

Having built a sturdy, if not gaudy lead, the Celtics let it go for much of the evening. There was no real need to treat the Hawks as more than a pack of fleas to be brushed aside.

Then the slapping and elbowing got more menacing. Then Marcus Smart began reminding the Hawks of his ever-menacing presence.

There is nothing halfway about Smart. He becomes a full-fledged menace before the point of a single elbow grazes his rib cage. He clearly went into Game 4 completely annoyed at the necessity of a Game 5.

And Smart got his teammates snarling. By the fourth quarter the Celts let it be known that they’d seen enough of the Hawks’ pale impersonation of a contender.

Perhaps fearing a full-fledged brawl, the refs began calling fouls that weren’t fouls a few minutes earlier.

Jayson Tatum managed to keep whatever brawling instincts he has on a leash. In Game 4 he got away with shoving an official aside. Sunday night, having been leveled on the baseline, he brushed aside another official on his way to the line.

Tatum and Jaylen Brown each scored 31 points. And when it was over neither’s face looked celebratory.

Round 2 begins Wednesday night against Philadelphia.

May the Celtics’ scowls remain in place.

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