There was no shortage of storylines about tonight’s matchup between the Celtics and Hawks. It was the first time the teams met since last season’s playoffs. Boston had won 10 of its last 13 and Atlanta had taken seven straight. The Cs were still without injured Avery Bradley (although Amir Johnson and Jaylen Brown were back). And, most of all, it was former Hawk star Al Horford’s first game in Atlanta wearing Celtics green.
Horford’s return was happy: The Cs hung on to win, 103-101, thanks to Isaiah Thomas’ 19-foot jumper with 2.4 seconds left on the clock. IT saved the day after the Celtics had allowed Atlanta to come all the way back from a 20-point deficit.
The Game Flow:
Horford was booed in introductions, and the game didn’t start well for him either. Dwight Howard dunked on him to open the scoring, then Al missed two free throws and airballed a hook shot. But Atlanta’s early lead was wiped out by a 14-0 Celtics run featuring four straight three-pointers and a Jae Crowder backdoor layup off a sweet feed from Horford.
Boston’s lead peaked at 15 and was 28-18 when the first quarter ended. They had 10 assists on 10 field goals, and they shot 8-14 from the arc. Crowder led the way with 10 points and Kelly Olynyk added nine on a trio of triples.
The Cs went cold in the second quarter, missing their first eight from the arc while committing five turnovers. Olynyk finished the half with four treys and 18 points, but the Hawks crept to within 48-44.
The Celtics regained their touch in the early third. IT hit a triple in Howard’s face, then tried another three that was blocked – but he scrapped to recover the loose ball, feeding Crowder for a corner trey. Marcus Smart stood out with a muscular putback in traffic; a post-up to draw the fourth personal foul on Dennis Schroder (a non-factor); and a Cobra-like steal in the open court for a Crowder layup. When Terry Rozier drained a jumper to cap a 10-0 run, Boston’s lead was 20. After some late lapses, the Celts ended the quarter up 78-65.
Boston was looking comfortable early in the fourth as Isaiah hit a couple of hoops, but the Hawks scrapped back with their second unit. An 11-3 run cut the Celts’ lead to eight, but Kelly snatched an offensive board for the putback. It was a 10-point lead with just under six minutes left, but Atlanta kept coming behind the hot shooting of Tim Hardaway, Jr. A corner three by Mike Dunleavy, Jr., brought the Hawks within two with 2:11 remaining.
The Celts rebuilt the lead to six, then Atlanta’s Malcolm Delaney (17 points out of nowhere) hit a three. But it was the fourth quarter, so IT, of course, answered with his own triple. Incredibly, Hardaway (15 in the fourth himself) banked in a three, and Paul Millsap hit another to tie the game with 25 seconds left. That’s when Isaiah did what he does.
A chronic problem this season: Late third quarter, Millsap missed a free throw and the Celtics failed to box out. Hardaway hit the second-chance three as part of an 8-0 Atlanta run. Then it happened again in the fourth, when Atlanta was rallying, and paid off for them in two FTs.
On any other night, Isaiah (28 points, 13 in the fourth) or Olynyk (season-high 26 points and plus-20) or Crowder (18 points, nine rebounds, plus-15) would get the nod here. But we’re giving it to Horford, who made it through an emotional night with 10 points, six boards, six assists, and plus-13.
The Hawks showed a video tribute to Horford between the first and second periods. Although fans did boo him early, they gave Al a standing O after the tribute.
- Weird statistics: Both teams shot 36-83, had 43 rebounds, 22 assists, and 12 turnovers.
- FTs: Boston 14-19, Atlanta 18-21
- 3PTs: Boston 17-44, Atlanta 11-29