It's hard to tell what's worse: the face plant at home with a chance to take a commanding 2-0 lead over Boston in this first-round playoff series or losing your best player to a potential season-ending knee injury.
The Hawks cashed in on both counts Tuesday night at Philips Arena, losing to the undermanned Boston Celtics 87-80 in Game 2 of their series. They watched Josh Smith limp off to the locker room with four minutes left in the game with a left knee tweak that requires further examination to determine the severity of his injury.
But as much as this loss was about the Hawks and their inability to maintain an 11-point lead and handle their business at home, it was also about Celtics captain Paul Pierce carrying his team without Rajon Rondo (suspended) and Ray Allen (injured) in uniform.
Pierce shredded the Hawks from start to finish, scoring the first nine points for the Celtics and finishing with 36 and 14 rebounds. He was, in every sense of the word, the Truth, as his nicknames suggests.
And the Hawks had no answer for the Truth on this night, especially not with Smith sidelined at crunch time.
"We expected him to come out very aggressive," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "I told our guys we would just have to stay the course throughout the game. We tried to make things as tough as we could and contest some of his shots. He came out very strong, but we were still in a good position even after that. He didn't do anything that we didn't expect from him tonight."
What Drew didn't expect was to finish the game without Smith, who had 16 points, 12 rebounds and five assists when he went down. Without him on the floor late, the Hawks had nowhere to go offensively and lacked the energy to fight back and save home-court advantage.
"I don't know much about (Josh Smith)," Drew said. "We'll know more after he's examined. He is one of our go-to guys down the stretch. We were missing all of the things that he brings to the table for us, especially down low. We tried to play small to match up to them and try to open up the floor a little bit, but we didn't have that low post presence that we needed."
They might not have him in Boston for Games 3 and 4 either.
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