What is it about these two teams when they get together?
On January 5th at Atlanta, the Celtics went on a 15-1 run to start the second half to wipe out a big Hawks lead on their way to an 89-81 win – then twenty days later, Kyle Korver scored 27 points, mostly on three pointers as the Hawks came back from a 27 point deficit to beat the Celtics in double overtime.
The rubber match turned out to be more of the same, except the team that mounted the comeback eventually took the loss.
Josh Smith scored 32 points, Jeff Teague 26 and Al Horford 22 as the Hawks closed out regulation with a 20-8 run to force overtime, but eventually fell in the extra period 107-102 on Friday night at TD Center in snowy downtown Boston.
Devin Harris also scored 12 points for Atlanta, who saw their record fall to 34-27 and into a tie for the sixth seed in the Eastern conference with the surging Celtics.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with a 27 point effort, also logging seven rebounds and an equal number of assists, scoring five of those points in overtime. Kevin Garnett went 17 and 8 , Brandon Bass had 8 and Avery Bradley five, but it was the work of Jeff Green and Jason Terry off the bench that propelled the Celtics to their fifth straight win.
Terry had 19 points, 5 in the overtime period including the dagger trey with 35 seconds left in the free frame, then added two free throws to ice the game while Green popped in 12 points featuring a thunderous reverse dunk to stem the tide in the fourth quarter and a three pointer in overtime that bounced precariously on the rim and had the fans in the Garden holding their breath before it fell through.
But perhaps their biggest accomplishment of the evening was taking turns locking Korver down, the monster that lives beyond the arc going just 1 of 5 from the field, the low number of shots testament to the Celtics’ bench duo’s superb defensive effort.
Both teams had chances to win the game in regulation, Garnett taking a desperation 18 footer as the shot clock expired before Smith put up a brick with just a second left. But just as the 4th quarter belonged to the athletic Hawks, the overtime period belonged to the tough and resilient Celtics.
Horford made a tough 20 footer and Teague dropped in a driving layup to give Atlanta a four point lead with just under 4 minutes to play, but Pierce responded with a layup of his own and Green rattled his trey home for a one point Boston lead.
Smith got the lead back for the Hawks just seconds later, nailing a crazy three for a 2 point lead, then Pierce nailed a three from the parking lot to give the Celtics back the lead. A free throw by Smith tied the game and set the stage for Terry’s personal 5-0 run to close out the game.
The loss was a tough one for Atlanta, who now return home to host the Brooklyn Nets tomorrow night before traveling to Miami for a date with the Heat on Tuesday while the Celtics travel to Oklahoma City for a Sunday tip off with the Thunder then head off to Charlotte for a payback game against the ‘Cats on Tuesday before returning home to host the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.
Smothering defense, veteran leadership and a bench that lights it up every night – that’s the Boston Celtics, and that’s a team that is looking more and more like they’re going to make a lot of noise down the stretch and in the playoffs.
How far can that combination carry them? If they continue to be mentally tough and play Celtics’ basketball, it’s going to fun finding out.