BOSTON - On a personal level, Sunday was a big game for Hawks forward Paul Millsap.
The underrated Millsap has been a star in this league for years, and is actually playing in his 10th NBA season.
But he's always been a bit under the radar on a national scale.
That might change after his historic performance against the Celtics on Sunday, despite the fact Boston got the best of Atlanta and won, 104-95.
The loss wasn't due to a lack of effort on Millsap's part. He dropped 45 points on 19-for-31 shooting, becoming the 11th player to score at least 45 points on the Celtics in the playoffs.
Millsap scored just 26 points combined over the first three games of the series, and had shot 4-for-21 combined over Game 2 and Game 3. But Sunday's Game 4 was a completely different story.
“Just put an emphasis on being aggressive," Millsap said. "I felt like I wasn’t aggressive in the first three games and especially on the road, your backs against the wall you got to be aggressive. So, I just wanted to do that tonight and set a tone that way.”
Some Celtics players like Amir Johnson spun it after the game by saying they were fine with Millsap scoring the way he was as long as the other players weren't doing much offensively. There is some truth to that. The Hawks' second-highest scorer was Jeff Teague, who finished with just 13 points.
“He was scoring so many different ways," Brad Stevens said of Millsap. "I mean, I think we had him for nineteen points in the post, all on different guys, so we were trying a bunch of different things. We were trying to dig hard. The most disheartening shot was probably when we dug really well and made him pass it and then (Dennis) Schroder hit the big three to go up. Because, you know, now you’re just bringing him attention and you’ve got shooting all over the court and that’s hard.
"So he scored on face ups, he scored on catch-and-shoot threes, he scored on drives and then he scored on the post. So the only place that we were really going to have to consider doubling was probably the post, and I didn’t want to do that because of the shooting. So we were going to try everyone until we got stops.”
Stevens finally found the right recipe: a healthy dose of Marcus Smart. Smart moved onto Millsap during the fourth quarter and limited him to just two points on 1-for-5 shooting the rest of the way, roughly 14 minutes.
"Number one is Marcus is an excellent defender with great strength," Stevens said, "so he’s able to make post catches difficult, he’s able to guard him on the drive, maybe not as much in the deep post, but he didn’t let him catch it in the deep post. And then he did a great job getting him off the glass. Now, in credit to Millsap, when you’ve scored 45 in three quarters, which I’ve never done, nor have I ever dreamed of doing, I’m imagining it’s tiring. So I think that certainly he deserves a lot of credit for that performance. Millsap was awesome.”
Millsap admitted that Smart was "tough" on defense. But he also seemed to echo what Stevens said after having logged about 32 minutes by the time Smart took him.
"Just guarded me at the right time," Millsap said.
We'll find out on Tuesday if that's all it was.