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The Celtics-Hawks Rivalry Continues to Blossom

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↵This Celtics-Hawks rivalry kind of sprang up out of nowhere. Or, rather, it was a Rube Goldberg device of circumstance: Teams meet in first round, rout predicted, Hawks take it to seven, Boston goes on to win in it all but the Atlanta experience remains a thorn in their side. It's a score to settle with a bunch of rascally upstarts. Except now, Mike Woodson's team has improved greatly, despite the loss of Josh Childress to Europe -- they were even remaining undefeated with Josh Smith sidelined. All about Al Horford and Joe Johnson, regional powerhouses who belong on the All-Star team. The both of them. ↵
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↵So last night, Boston went in looking to set things straight by taking out the unbeaten Hawks, but hit the floor and found themselves playing ... a rightfully unbeaten Hawks team. What followed was some emotional, hard-bitten basketball, with the Celtics coming out on top thanks to Paul Pierce's theatrical game-winner. But wait, didn't this just take the rivalry up to yet another level of legitimacy? Here's Horford, in The Boston Globe:
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↵⇥"Sure, it's early in the season. But this talented, athletic, tough, and more experienced Hawks squad is much more ferocious now than in April. And this is a monster the Celtics will likely see down the line. We kind of just want to go out there and play the game the right way and let people know we are serious. That's what we've been doing. And tonight, even though we fell short, we still came out and gave it all we had." ↵
↵Or, as Woodson put it, "We've grown a lot since last season, thanks to the Celtics." And that's the beauty of it. The Celtics, for reasons of pride, the past, and a protect-the-tundra mentality about the East, want to put the Hawks in their place. But that's getting harder and harder. And the more intense these games become, the more experience Atlanta gets taking on a contender at its best -- an occasion they've repeatedly shown the ability to rise to. It may be an unlikely rivalry, but as it becomes less realistic that Boston can absolutely wipe the Hawks off the face of the standings, and Woodson's team continues to learn from these skirmishes, soon we might be looking at these games as a battle amongst peers. ↵
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↵I can't think of a stranger story to come out of 2008-09 than the beginning of a long, bloody Hawks-Celtics rivalry. For the moment, though, it's got as much energy going for it as any of the other "these cities hate each other" or "two franchises that clashed in 1988" storylines networks still push on us.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.