Kevin Garnett scored 20 points, eight in a high intensity -- dare we say, playoff intense -- fourth quarter, hitting big shots and forcing the game into overtime against the Atlanta Hawks. From there, the traditionally stingy Celtics defense took over, holding Atlanta to one basket in overtime, as the Celtics would win 88-86 in Boston Wednesday night.
The Hawks led for most of the game, led by the excellent play of Josh Smith, who made nine of his first 15 shots and led Atlanta with 11 rebounds to go with his 20 points. Smith also had a variety of nice passes, garnering five assists and blocking two shots.
Jeff Teague also used his speed to create and score by attacking the lane, scoring nine in the opening quarter and then adding eight in the fourth, hitting a couple of beat-the-shot-clock jumpers that kept the Hawks close as the Boston train was rolling at home. Teague finishined with a team-high 21 points and six assists and hit four big free throws late.
The Celtics, one of the weakest rebounding teams in the league in season, especially on the offensive glass, snagged a season high 56 rebounds, including the fifth time all season they grabbed 15 or more offensive rebounds (they had 15 against the Hawks).
Brandon Bass (10 rebounds, 21 points) and Rajon Rondo (10 rebounds, 10 points, 20 assists) contributed to that glass bonanza, but it was Garnett who led the team with 12 boards that made the biggest impact on the game.
To say it again, despite a statistically fantastic triple-double by Rondo, its impact was in the considerable shadow of Garnett's presence late in the game.
Garnett's intensity, shotmaking and rebounding raised the level of the Celtics' defense in the game most critical minutes. The Hawks, who had shot 47-percent through three quarters, shot 30-percent (9-30) in the fourth quarter and overtime, as the inside got awfully tight and the Hawks tried to shoot over the now-hardened Boston defense.
Another data point to support the stodginess of Boston's late-game defense: Atlanta scored 38 points in the paint through three quarters -- and two in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Over at Peachtree Hoops, William Sevidal takes aim at one of the underproducing men in Atlanta jerseys:
Joe Johnson was having a "shoot and brick" contest with Paul Pierce. Dominique Wilkins kept saying and believing that Joe Johnson will eventually start hitting shots as the game went on, and Joe Johnson felt the same way. Unfortunately, both of them were wrong. Joe kept taking shots and kept missing shots. He even airballed a wide open three pointer at one point.
Johnson was 5-17 on the night (14 points, four assists), Pierce 6-19 (14 points, four assists) and neither seem to find a rhythm offensively in a tough battle. Pierce in particular looked like he simply didn't have the legs after another emotional game the night before against Miami as his jump shots were consistently hitting the front of the rim.
There was another aspect that came forward late in the game -- a series of officiating calls that CelticsBlog takes aim at in their recounting of the game:
There were a whole bunch of questionable calls, most of them coming in the tail end of this monstrosity of a game. Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma took the brunt of it, both of them fouling out on some of the more questionable calls of the game. Pierce wasn't even allowed to delicately brush some sweat off of Josh Smith's pudgy cheek while driving to the basket. (We wish Josh all the best in his recovery from that hard, hard foul. [/sarcasm])
The Hawks had a chance to win, down two with the ball, in overtime's final seconds. The Hawks inbounded to Joe Johnson, who passed out of a fast Celtic double-team to a wide open Josh Smith. Smith, who had been hot as described before had time to drive the lane and/or pass the ball one more time to the corner to an open Teague, but elected instead to shoot the three himself. As it caromed off the rim, the Hawks looked like they would get one more chance, but Johnson knocked the ball out of bounds, giving possession to Boston with a second left. Rondo would get the inbounds pass, toss it high into the arena and the game was over.
The Celtics and Hawks, should the season have ended after the game, would be a first-round matchup for the playoffs.
For all of Wednesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.