It was an unexpected but fortuitous moment for the Hawks to play their best game of the season and give a rare glimpse of what this team could be. If the Hawks continue to play in this vein (though they're unlikely to match the quality of last night's performance) for the remainder of the series this season will constitute far more of a success than I thought possible Saturday morning.
Offensively, the ball often went first to Josh Smith or Al Horford for them to convert chances themselves or to use their skills as passers to find shooters open on the perimeter. Defensively, the Hawks were not able to force many turnovers but they controlled their defensive glass and ran opportunistically off of Boston's misses. The combination of transition play and inside-out ball movement in the half-court made the Hawks uncharacteristically difficult to guard. Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby got to utilize their shooting and passing skills without having to dominate the basketball.
As to whether it's a performance that can be replicated or simply a glorious one-off, I'm (characteristically) of two minds. First, it wasn't a perfect performance: Mike Bibby shot better than he had in the first two games but didn't shoot especially well, Horford wasted on the bench for most of the second quarter, Joe Johnson had a typically difficult fourth quarter (1-7 from the floor), and Mike Woodson found two different opportunities to put Solomon Jones in the game (12 of Boston's 93 points were scored in the 2:25 Jones played).
However, some stars aligned for the Hawks. Atlanta scored nine points on six Josh Smith three-point attempts (One-third of Atlanta's fourth quarter points came from Smith three-pointers. I have to imagine the Celtics were pleased with the shots they forced Atlanta to take in the fourth quarter.) a level of efficiency unlikely to be replicated. Also, one has to assume that, should he find himself going to the basket more in traffic than in the open floor, Smith might revert to his (less-effective) repetoire of finger-rolls and flips rather than attempting to dunk the ball at every opportunity. I'm also willing to go out on a limb and predict that Ray Allen shoots better than 1-6 from beyond the three-point line in Game 4.
But why should you seriously consider what I'd predict. Everything that happened in Game 3 confounded my expectations--from the Hawks outworking the Celtics (while at the same time playing with intelligence and poise) to the crowd in Philips providing a significant home-court advantage. The chance of the Hawks evening the series on Monday night remain small, but I'll head downtown with the expectation that the Hawks will play a tough, competitive game against NBA's best team. This pleases me greatly.