Here is my updated game story, with quotes, from the Hawks’ win over the Celtics Friday night.
The Hawks defeated the Celtics — who were missing three-quarters of their offense — Friday night. And they got all they could handle in the process.
Beyond that, there was little to gauge in an often-ugly 97-92 victory at Philips Arena.
The Hawks took a 1 1/2-game lead over the Celtics in the race for home-court advantage in their likely Nos. 4 vs. 5 playoff matchup. But you can forget this Hawks-Celtics game being a first-round playoff series preview. The Celtics team that took the court Friday resembled nothing of the one that will play in the postseason.
Boston was without Kevin Garnett (rest), Paul Pierce (rest), Ray Allen (ankle), Rajon Rondo (back) and Mickael Pietrus (knee). They are five (three starters and two key reserves) of the team’s top seven scorers in points per game, averaging a combined 68.8 points of the team’s 92.1 points (75 percent).
Willie Green scored eight consecutive fourth-quarter points, including two 3-pointers, to give the Hawks a five-point cushion, 85-80. They needed every point.
The Celtics closed the gap to one point before Joe Johnson scored four points and had a steal with less than 45 seconds remaining. A basket by Josh Smith gave the Hawks a six-point lead with 32.3 seconds left. Jannero Pargo and Vladimir Radmanovic made free throws to seal the victory.
“It was very sloppy on our half,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “As I told the players, I understand the psychological and mental side of a game like that where a team doesn’t have its top six, seven players. You come out and have to get yourself jacked up and motivated to play. I’ve been around this league to see that situation. Either you handle it or you don’t. We didn’t handle that side.”
The Hawks (38-25) won their third consecutive game and seventh of their past nine. They have three home games remaining in the regular season before starting the postseason April 28 or 29. They won the final game of the season series with the Celtics after losing the first two games by a combined five points.
The Celtics (37-27) lost for only the 10th time since the All-Star break (22-10). With two home games remaining in their regular season, coach Doc Rivers chose to get his team healthy and rested for the postseason even if it cost them home-court advantage in the first round.
“Obviously we would love to get home-court [advantage], but we also want to be healthy and we want to be fresh,” Rivers said.
Johnson led the Hawks with a game-high 30 points. Smith added 19 points and 12 rebounds. Jason Collins (season-high), Kirk Hinrich and Green all added eight points.
Avery Bradley, one of two regulars for the Celtics, gave the Hawks fits. He scored a career-high 28 points.
“It’s tough to prepare for games like this,” Green said. “You kind of get amped up expecting their starters to be playing and then they are not. Give the Celtics a lot of credit. They played extremely hard no matter who they put in the game.”
The Celtics erased a 12-point deficit by outscoring the Hawks 23-16 in the third quarter. They tied the game, 72-all, on E’Twaun Moore’s 3-pointer. Smith answered with a basket to give the Hawks a 74-72 lead heading into the final quarter.
The Hawks, who led by as many as 12 points in the first half, took a 58-49 lead into intermission. Johnson had 23 points at the break, including 11 of the Hawks’ final 13 points.
The Celtics’ last lead was 7-6 before the Hawks went on a 10-0 run in the first quarter to take control. Throughout the first half they could never put the reserve-laded Celtics away in some play that was sloppy at times. The Celtics finished the first half shooting over 60 percent, a fact not lost on Drew.
“As I told our guys at halftime, we didn’t respond very well,” Drew said. “As far as I’m concerned, Boston, whether they won the game or not, accomplished what they wanted, to have their reserves come out and compete at a high level and take us down to the wire.
“I’m proud that they fought their way through it and got the win.”
The Hawks had 19 turnovers leading to 25 Celtics points.