It's great to be out of this series, but the fact remains the Celtics have a lot of issues to work out if they hope to reach and compete in the later rounds.
The first 3 quarters of the game it was obvious that Atlanta had no fear of the Celtics - their mindset was "play out game and we'll win." Going into the 4th I expected that they would, against a Celtics team that seemed more focused on "omg how are we fucking this up" than on playing basketball.
I think that what changed in the 4th qurter is that someone stepped up and said "Follow me, guys!" and the guys did. And that someone was Al Horford. Horford is a year older than last year and I think not able to play minute for minute at the same level as last year, but he came in with 8:45 left in a tie game and turned the whole thing around. Not him alone, but him setting the tone and the Jays following.
Horford comes in at 8:45 in a 106-106 game, gets a defensive rebound, then an offensive rebound/putback. Atlanta hits a three for a one point lead, and Boston misses, but Horford comes up with a steal of a Trae Young pass. Boston's doesn't score on the ensuing possession, but Horford blocks Young and comes up with the rebound, and Brown scores to put the Celtics up 1 point. That's 1:15 seconds of game play and Al had 3 rebounds (1 OR), a putback, a steal and a block.
Later, scored tied at 113, Horford comes up with a defensive rebounds and then Smart feeds him for a 3 in the corner, 116-1119-113)3. After a Tatum 3 with 2:44 to go (1, Jaylen Brown comes out of nowhere for a spectacular block on Murray, and Horford misses a 3 point attempt... but Tatum flies in out of nowhere for the putback. 121-113. This looks insurmountable, but after Murray and Smart exchange threes, Hunter hits a three and Smart a 2, 126-119, 1:07 left.
Unfortnately, this is where Mazzulla and Marcus Smart tried one more time to give the game away and came close. With the Celtics in possession, Smart tried to get bounce pass past his defender and it was stolen, leading to a transition 3 attempt by Bogdanovic, who was fouled by Horford. 3 shots, Celtics up 126-119, with 24 seconds left and 2 timeouts. Bogdanovic misses the first attempt, after which point there is no mystery to anyone but Joe Mazzulla what will happen next: whatever happens on the second shot, Bogdanovic will miss the third on purpose and the excellent offensive rebounding Hawks will try to recover it. Rob Williams had not been on the floor, and for some reason Mazzulla decides that in this situation where one rebound wins the game he is not going to put him in. Sure enough, Atlanta misses the shot, crashes the boards, and gets a new possession down only 6.
The Celtics played great defense on the ensuing possession, defensing 4 straight inbounds plays without giving the Hawks anything. I've never seen this before, but three times Altanta - who did not want to burn a time out - had their inbounder hold for nearly 5 seconds and then throw the ball off a Celtic and out of bounds. On the 4th time, they threw it out of bounds without touching a Celtic.
Al Horford's 4th quarter line was 5 points, 7 rebounds, a steal and a block, and it was his play that set the tone - a tone that had been missing for large stretches of this series - down the stretch. His overall stats aren't as impressive as others (10 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks) but for me the game ball goes to him.
Also worth noting: Grant Williams played 17 minutes in this one and mostly held his own. The burying of Grant in this series - not to a reduced role but to no role at all - never made sense to me. He did his job, including 7 minutes of +6 play in the 4th.
The Jays were both great, but Al is obviously still the guy everyone follows, even at 37. I think there were efforts by Al to sort of pass the torch this year, but no one stepped into the void, so it has to be him.