Back on November 12th, the Celtics played the Atlanta Hawks in Boston and pulled out a win on a last second Paul Pierce jumper 103-102. Since the Hawks beat the Celtics three times at Philips Arena during their 1st round playoff series they were convinced that they could come away with a win this time. The young high flying Hawks had just ended LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers' 11 game win streak and they wanted to stop the Celtics streak at 15.
The Hawks organization hyped up the game as a "Rivalry Renewed". This was a game they'd been waiting for since the summer ended. To the Celtics this was just another game on the schedule, yet another obstacle in the way of them achieving ultimate success. The atmosphere in Atlanta was close to that of a playoff game. The front row was full of celebrities like Ludacris, Lil' Jon and Mario and the crowd was loud and raucous. It was time to jump the ball and get it in.
The Celtics had trouble trying to get out to a big lead even though the Hawks missed their first 11 shots from the field due to tough, physical Celtics defense. The young and athletic Hawks were able to get offensive rebounds and force turnovers so the Celtics early lead topped out at 8-2 before the Hawks came back with a barrage of three pointers and second chance points. Even though the Hawks only shot 27% in the opening quarter, they shot 4-9 from deep to keep the game close even though Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce were ballin'. At the end of one, the score was BOS 22 ATL 21.
The second quarter opened with the Celtics deferring to their bench. The game was pretty much the Celtics and Hawks trading baskets but the Celtics couldn't get a run started or knock down a three pointer. Eventually, the Hawks got it together behind Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams play and went on a run that gave them a 30-28 lead for the first time in the contest with 7:00 left in the half. Points were extremely tough to come by and the Celtics managed to tie the game at 32-32 slightly more than a minute later. Joe Johnson's free throws and two big baskets from Marvin Williams gave Atlanta a 38-32 lead.
The Hawks pushed their lead up to 41-34 behind a Ray Allen jumper followed by another Marvin Williams basket and a Mike Bibby technical free throw. Rajon Rondo then went to work and scored spectacular back to back baskets before Mike Bibby cut to the hole to make it 43-38. Paul Pierce came down and hit a jumper and Rajon Rondo came up with a steal and fed Kevin Garnett in the paint. He got fouled and hit a couple of free throws to close the halftime deficit to one. At the end of two the score was ATL 43 BOS 42 in a hard fought game.
Both teams traded baskets in the 3rd before Atlanta went on a mini run capped by a Josh Smith drive with 8:28 left to make the lead 51-46. After a Celtics free throw, Marvin Williams made a tough jumper to push the lead to 53-47. Kevin Garnett got fouled at the other end and Mike Woodson got hit with a tech for protesting the call. After three free throws the lead was cut in half to 53-50.
A Horford basket made it 55-50 before Paul Pierce got an and one at the other end to make it 55-53. Atlanta hit a three to make it 58-53 before Rondo split the Atlanta D to make it 58-55. The Hawks scored yet again but Ray Allen nailed the first Celtics three of the game to close it to 60-59 in favor of Atlanta. Two free throws made the lead 62-59 to end the third quarter. This was easily one of the worst Celtics 3rd quarters of the entire season so far.
Atlanta came out and pushed the lead to 6 on a Flip Murray corner three (67-61) but Eddie House answered with a three to make it 67-64. Marvin Williams threw down a dunk to make it 69-64. Ray Allen (16 pts 5 rebs 2 ast 1 stl) drove to the hole but was goaltended by Horford, 69-66. Marvin Williams hit a three to push the lead to 72-66.
The Celtics went on a run powered by three Rondo assists to Kevin Garnett, Pierce and KG again to tie the game. Kendrick Perkins' block led to a runout and Kevin Garnett hit a cutting Rajon Rondo to take a 74-72 lead. Mike Bibby responded with a three but Perkins got an and one to give the C's a 77-75 lead. On the other end, Josh Smith threw down an emphatic dunk after an offensive rebound and was fouled but missed the free throw for a 77-77 tie.
Joe Johnson hit two free throws to give the Hawks a slim lead but KG tied the game up again with a jumper off the glass with 2:52 left in the game (79-79). Marvin Williams hit a free throw to make it 80-79 but Rajon Rondo (15 pts 6 rebs 7 ast 4 stl) found KG with an alley oop @ 1:38 to give the C's an 81-80 lead. Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce (18 pts 7 rebs) traded jumpers and the Celtics kept the lead (83-82).
Joe Johnson was fouled on a drive and gave the Hawks the lead after two free throws (84-83) with 48.7 left in the game. Kevin Garnett responded with a jump hook in the lane @ 30.8 (85-84). Joe Johnson came down and missed a jumper, in the scramble for the loose ball he got it back but his shot was rejected by Perkins. Rondo was fouled with 9.1 left in the game and he hit a free throw to make it 86-84.
Joe Johnson drove to the hole and was fouled by Perkins with 2.7 seconds left in the game. He hit his first free throw but missed the second one and Garnett grabbed the rebound with 1.5 seconds to go in the game. Ray Allen knocked down two free throws and Mike Bibby front rimmed a three with time expiring. The Celtics pulled out an 88-85 win in front of a stunned crowd in Atlanta. Kevin Garnett (18 pts 8 rebs 3 ast 2 blk) went 5-5 in the 4th after a 2-9 start and Kendrick Perkins (8 pts 10 rebs 4 blk) helped to shut down the Hawks at score big baskets when it counted.
The Celtics racked up their 16 win in a row and now sit atop the entire NBA with a 24-2 record. They outrebounded the young and athletic Hawks (45-41) and held them to 37% shooting from the field. The Celtics outscored Atlanta 29-23 in the 4th quarter and found a way to win by only hitting 2-13 from deep. On Friday night the Celtics will host the Chicago Bulls with a chance to go for 17 straight wins. This is shaping up to be a special team.