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Hawks down, but not out
Members of the Atlanta Hawks sit on the bench while they watch the final minutes of the Hawks’ 96-77 loss to the Boston Celtics during Game 2 on Wednesday in Boston. The series moves to Atlanta tonight. - photo by The Associated Press

ATLANTA — Wonder who the Boston Celtics will face in the second round of the NBA playoffs: Cleveland and LeBron James, or Washington and gimpy Gilbert Arenas?

Uhhhh, hold that thought.

We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.

Yes, the Celtics have looked unstoppable in the first two games of their series against the Atlanta Hawks, winning by an average of 21 points. Sure, Boston seems intent on finishing off this annoying little first-round business as quickly as possible.

But there is that little matter of the next two games in Atlanta.

Is this just a formality? Or can the Hawks somehow find a way to claw their way back into contention against a clearly superior team?

“You’ve got to win four games,” said Atlanta point guard Mike Bibby, who became a lightning rod in the best-of-seven series with his derogatory assessment of Boston’s fans. “A lot of people are saying it’s over, but you’ve to win four games. The first team to four, that’s when it ends.”

Game 3 is tonight, and Boston could finish things off as soon as Monday.

After the Celtics practiced at home Friday before flying on to Atlanta, someone asked coach Doc Rivers if he was glad to see Cleveland and Washington beating up on each other. The Cavaliers won the first two at home, but the Wizards bounced with a dominating win in Game 3.

The winner of that series moves on to face Boston ... make that the Boston-Atlanta winner.

“We’ve got Atlanta to worry about,” Rivers said. “What Cleveland and Washington do, we couldn’t care less.”

The Celtics’ Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce will be ready to go in Atlanta. Pierce, who woke up with a stiff back after being body-slammed in Game 2 on Wednesday night, practiced without any problems on Friday.

“He’s fine,” Rivers said. “I didn’t ask and no one came to me and said anything, so that means he’s 100 percent. We have no injuries that I care to know about.”

The Hawks are trying to muster up some reason to feel hopeful, though the series is following the regular-season script.

Boston had the best record in the NBA, including a 3-0 mark against Atlanta. The Hawks, on the other hand, relied on geography to make the playoffs, claiming the final spot in the East with a record eight games under .500. They wouldn’t have been close to making it in the powerful Western Conference.
So, the Hawks are left to repeat a familiar refrain.

Over and over and over.

“We know that anything is possible,” forward Josh Smith said after a two-hour practice Friday. He said it again, as if he was trying to convince himself. “Anything IS possible. We’ve just go to win these two games here, then go back up there (to Boston) and try to figure out a way to win up there.”

Smith’s attempt at optimism comes across like someone on the Titanic saying, “We’ve just got to pump out the water, patch up that huge hole in the side of the ship, and we’ll be fine.”

The Hawks did have a 25-16 record at Philips Arena this season, so that’s something.

“They were supposed to hold serve on their home court,” Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. “Now, we get an opportunity to see what we’re made of coming back here to Philips Arena. They’re trying to close us out ... but we’ve been pretty good here at home. We’ve got to see what we’re made of.”

The Hawks have a long list of issues to address: turnovers, poor shooting, a lack of shots, not enough steals, little ball movement, a poor showing thus far by point guard Bibby.

But they’re counting on the home-court advantage to help them get over the jitters that clearly overwhelmed the NBA’s youngest playoff team during those first two games in Boston.

“We’ve got two guys (Bibby and Joe Johnson) with playoff experience,” Woodson said. “The rest of the guys are just getting into it. They’re trying to get a feel for what it’s all about. It is difficult. They realize that now after playing those first two games in Boston. They know the high level of energy they’ve got to play at. I’m just glad to be back home. It was tough up there in Boston — on all us.”

It’s not likely to be as tough on the Celtics in Atlanta, a city where nearly everyone is from somewhere else. There’s usually plenty of fans cheering for the other guys whenever a prominent team such as Boston visits Philips Arena.

“I hope there’s no green at all,” Smith said. “I hope everybody is on our side. We’re going to need them all.”

If that doesn’t work, where else can the Hawks turn?

Woodson already shaved his head before the series, so that’s out, but maybe they’ll get a little help from the Boss. Bruce Springsteen was performing at the arena Friday night, the latest stop on his “Magic” tour.

Hmmm, maybe some of that magic will rub off on the local NBA team.

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