The Boston Celtics slipped past the Atlanta Hawks 83-80 on Thursday to clinch the first round series match-up.
Kevin Garnett led Boston with a team-high 28 points and 14 rebounds while teammates Paul Pierce (18/7) and Rajon Rondo (14/8) combined for 32 points and 15 assists in the contest. The other eight Celtics who got action in the game only combined for 23 points.
Four of five starters for Atlanta reached double-figures as Josh Smith led the Hawks with 18 points and nine boards.
Joe Johnson (17), Marvin Williams (16) and Al Horford (15) combined for 48 points and 18 rebounds. Fifth starter Jeff Teague only tallied five points and six assists in 32 minutes of action.
Boston was up 67-63 to start the fourth quarter and seemed to be pulling away as they went up by nine points halfway through the final period.
Atlanta however played tough and responded with a 14-2 run in the following four minutes to go up 79-76 with 2:23 remaining.
After Boston took the lead 80-79, the Hawks had a chace to recapture the lead in the final seconds but instead of being aggressive and trying to force the Celtics to foul, Josh Smith settled for a 23-foot fade-away jumper with nine seconds on the clock that bounced off the back rim and into the hands of one of the game’s best free-throw shooters of all-time in Ray Allen.
Atlanta had no choice but to foul and send Allen to the line with the clock winding down. Allen miraculously missed the first one but made the second foul-shot to put the C’s up 81-79.
With just three seconds in the game Joe Johnson took the ball to the hoop and went up for a lay-up but Pierce blocked the attempt out of bounds.
On the following play, Smith tossed a nice inbound pass over the head of Marquies Daniels to Al Horford who went up for a dunk but got fouled by Daniels with 2.3 secons remaining.
With a chance to tie the game and perhaps force extended play, Horford chocked and missed the first foul-shot before sinking the second.
Down 81-80, the Hawks fouled Paul Pierce and sent him to the line. He hit both clutch fre-throws and iced the series for Boston as they beat Atlanta four games to two in the first round of the playoffs.
Boston showed their big game background by outscoring Atlanta 7-2 in the final two and half minutes to seal the victory.
Player Grades: Each player is given a grade on an A+ through F scale based upon their game performance.
Jeff Teague: F
Joe Johnson: D
Marvin Williams: B
Josh Smith: C
Al Horford: A
Rajon Rondo: C-
Avery Bradley: D
Paul Pierece: B+
Brandon Bass: D
Kevin Garnett: A
The turning point in the game was KG’s tough mid-range jumper he made late in the fourth quarter to put Boston up 80-79.
The Celtics never relinquished the lead after that and held on for the series clinching victory.
SDS Player of the Game:
Kevin Garnett showed why he is nicknamed “The Big Ticket” by posting a huge double-double performance on Thursday night against the Hawks in the deciding series game.
KG finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in 39 minutes of action. He was 10-of-19 overall from the field and made 8-of-1o free-throws in the contest.
Love the fight the Hawks played with to get back into the game. Atlanta has been known for some time now as a lazy team who plays like they don’t care at times but held strong in game 6 with a 14-2 run in a six minute span to take the lead 79-76.
However, Josh Smith showed terrible shot selection when it mattered most by taking a 23-foot fade-away jumper down by one point with nine seconds remaining.
Atlanta then had two more opportunities to score but couldn’t find ways to do so as Boston’s defense stepped up challeneged the Hawks.
Pierce blocked a Williams lay-up attempt with three seconds remaing that would have tied the score, then Daniels made a good hard foul on a Horford dunk attempt to force him to earn the two points from the foul-line.
Horford couldn’t cash in on the first one and basically lost the game with that missed shot.
Til next year…