Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 5/7/12
BOSTON Celtics forward Kevin Garnett likes to think building a championship basketball team is kind of like baking a cake. First you take your ingredients your well-known standbys, as well as a few bold new flavors and you mix them together. What you initially get doesn't look like much, and it isn't something that's ready to serve, but if you sneak a taste and you've followed the directions, you'll know you're on the right track. That was the Celtics after the All-Star break, when a disastrous first half gave way to a resurgent final two months and Boston started to jell, showing flashes of potential that left some thinking they could be a dangerous team once the postseason got started. "It's not just going to come out in the first two minutes; you've got to wait on it," Garnett said as he drew comparisons between cake and basketball after his team's 101-79 rout of the Atlanta Hawks Sunday at TD Garden. "You have to give it time to be what it's going to be." Now Boston has settled in and is thriving under the heat of playoff pressure and if their commanding 3-1 first-round series lead is any indication, the Celtics are finally rounding into form and their finished product is starting to take shape. "Time tells everything, and when the results come, you're just glad you're in a nice rhythm," Garnett continued. "We're in a nice rhythm right now." Everything went according to plan for the No. 4 Celtics Sunday night, and in their dismantling of the fifth-seeded Hawks, Boston looked as good as they've looked in years. The Celtics shot 51.3 percent from the field for the game this after shooting 40.6 percent over the first three games of the series while holding Atlanta to 40.8 percent shooting, and rolled to victory with little resistance, leading by as many as 37 in the second half. "It's definitely the best we've played this series," veteran forward Paul Pierce said of the blowout. "We haven't really played well yet we've just been winning games." After injuring his knee at Sunday morning's shootaround, Pierce was a gametime decision, but he showed no ill effects of the injury though he did hobble off the court and into the locker room briefly in the first half and finished with a game-high 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting in just 16:37 of playing time. "Paul was in the zone today," Garnett said. "He was in the zone. There's nothing else you can say about it." Rajon Rondo, meanwhile, in his second game back after a one-game suspension for bumping referee Marc Davis in Game 2, was every bit as good as Pierce, scoring 20 points and dishing out 16 assists the first such performance of his playoff career with just one turnover. "There are days that you sense it, and then most of the time you're wrong; I didn't sense that," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said when asked if he saw Rondo's performance coming. "I did sense that we were ready to play, and obviously that's the best we've played since we've been in the playoffs." Boston certainly looked like a different team from the old, stagnant one that flopped in Game 1 in Atlanta, and similarly, that eager Hawks squad from earlier in the series was nowhere to be found Sunday, despite the insertion of Josh Smith and Al Horford back into the lineup "We were beaten in every phase of the game," Atlanta coach Larry Drew said. "I haven't seen that type of performance from our team in quite some time." And was it ever bad timing for it. Sunday's game was the biggest of the year for the Hawks and was a must-win in every sense of the word, but at times Atlanta looked like a team that couldn't wait for the season to be over, though they denied that after it was all said and done. "You can't forget," said Horford, who had 12 points and five rebounds in his first game since January 11. "We're aware of it, and what we're going to do is we're going to learn from it and get focused for Tuesday. You better believe that we're coming; we're bringing it at home." Unfortunately for Atlanta, only eight teams have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, and the Hawks haven't shown the talent, effort or heart to make anyone think they could become the ninth. "You don't want to give a team any confidence," Pierce said. "You've got to go down to Atlanta with the right mindset. You don't want to bring it back to Boston, because anything could happen. The NBA is a weird league." But it's not weird enough to make anyone think the Hawks have a chance, and the safe bet is that Tuesday's Game 5 will be the clincher. "They are NBA players, so there is a chance we could lose Game 5," Rondo said. "But there's not in our mind." In addition to giving the Celtics a overwhelming series lead, Sunday's win also had more significant future implications than your typical Game 4. With No. 8 seed Philadelphia holding a stunning 3-1 advantage on the top-ranked Bulls and likely awaiting the winner of this series, a once-unlikely Eastern Conference finals berth seems well within reach, and even, perhaps, likely. But Rivers and his veteran team know better than to look that far ahead. Right now, their sole focus is on continuing to refine their game plan and putting the icing on this series. "You've got to just take it one at a time and go out and play your best and if you win it then you move on," Rivers said. "You never look at the finish line; you never talk about the finish line. You talk about the next game and just playing well, and your play will take care of that." Or, in other words, just trust your recipe. Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter @sam_gardner
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