Game over, Hawks win 97-92: Joe Johnson scored 30 points, Josh Smith had 19 points and 12 rebounds and the Hawks took a 1 1/2 game lead in the race for home-court advantage in the first round, but the Celtics had to leave Atlanta feeling good about their play Friday.
With five key players resting and one othe regular, backup center Greg Stiemsma, sitting out the entire second half, the Celtics (37-27) pushed the Hawks (38-25) to the limit. Avery Bradley led Boston with 28 points, a career best.
Fourth quarter, 1:29, Hawks 92-86: It looks like the Hawks ended up doing barely enough to get the victory here. Johnson got up to 30 points, which is almost as impressive as Bradley getting only two points less than that.
Fourth quarter, 2:07, Hawks 87-86: The Celtics will not go away. One thing that's very noticeable about Boston is that the team runs the same stuff, no matter the personnel. Daniels played a role we have seen Garnett fill hundreds of times, catching the ball in the post along the baseline, then facing up and finding a cutter. Daniels-to-Dooling made it a one-point game again, and Rivers is coaching as hard as if this were a late-round playoff game.
Fourth quarter, 5:44, Hawks 82-78: The Hawks kept doing just enough to keep the Celtics from taking the lead, but whether the Celtics win or lose this game is beside the point (just don't tell them that). The fact that the Celtics managed to stay this close, this long with the Hawks, who are more or less at full strength, sends a huge message heading into the playoffs.
(Yes, I know Al Horford is out for the Hawks, as is Zaza Pachulia. But Horford has been out since January, so I'm not counting him, just like I'm not counting Chris Wilcox or Jermaine O'Neal for Boston. And Pachulia's absence does not make up for the absence of Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett and Pietrus. It just doesn't.)
Fourth quarter, 8:27, Hawks 77-76: Ivan Johnson deserves credit for overcoming getting kicked out of a Korean basketball league to get back into the NBA, but he probably won't get any credit for trying to act tough when Dooling fouled him on a layup attempt.
The Celtics were riding high, and Dooling just wanted to keep Johnson from getting an easy two points. Yet Johnson took exception and began jawing at Dooling, who is a good half-foot shorter.
Dooling just smiled in amusement. The Hawks were frustrated, and they were taking it out on 6-3 guards instead of, you know, playing harder.
End of third quarter, Hawks 74-71: With Stiemsma on the bench and Bass mired in a shooting slump, the Celtics somehow cut the deficit to a point and had the Hawks reeling at the close of the third quarter. The Celtics outscored the Hawks 22-16 in the quarter and forced six Atlanta turnovers. They were also essentially even with the Hawks in points in the paint with 32 to the Hawks' 34, even though the Celtics have no post threat at all.
Third quarter, 2:41, Hawks 72-63: Somebody might want to put a body on Bradley. The second-year guard out of Texas was at a career-high 26 points with close to three minutes remaining on the clock in the third quarter. If the Celtics were to get any closer than four points, which they briefly reached twice in the quarter, they needed more from Bass. Bass was having one of those nights where nothing would fall, missing 10 of his 12 shots, including one spinner that seemed to be halfway through the net before it boomeranged out.
Third quarter, 8:34, Hawks 62-54: Bradley hit a 3-pointer to pull the Celtics within four points at 58-54, but the Celtics then had three straight unproductive possessions that allowed Atlanta to double that lead.
Still, the Hawks could not be pleased with even allowed this crew of C's to get so close. Atlanta trotted out its starters to begin the second half, and watching the lead dwindle against these Celtics could not have been encouraging for the Hawks.
As Rivers says of his role players, they just get it done. While they did not get over the hump to take the lead, they got it done to a decent extent thus far.
Halftime, Hawks 58-49: Johnson must not read the scouting report. He and the rest of the Hawks seemed to fall asleep covering Bradley, letting the guard cut off the ball for several easy layups, including the Celtics' last basket of the first half.
The Celtics managed to keep it closer than the Hawks seemed to expect, even though Atlanta shot 61 percent from the field and had 16 assists on its 23 field goals.
The Good: Avery Bradley's game just keeps expanding. He led the Celtics with 17 points in the first half with an array of jump shots, dribble drives and off-ball cuts. … Keyon Dooling has been forgotten at times at the end of Boston's bench. In 15 first-half minutes, Dooling made all four shots he took for 10 points. That's only the third time this season Dooling scored in double figures and the first time since three days after Christmas. … Despite his defensive errors, Joe Johnson is pretty good, but you probably knew that already. Johnson was 9-for-12 from the field and had a game-high 23 points while also tying Jeff Teague for the team high in assists with five each.
The Bad: Brandon Bass became Atlanta's focus defensively, since he was the one proven scorer on the floor for Boston. Smith blanketed Bass and held him to two points on 1-for-6 shooting. … Tracy McGrady hurt the Hawks in eight minutes, turning the ball over four times and missing the only shot he took.
The So-so: Marquis Daniels, who was effective in limited minutes on Wednesday, had another efficient half. Daniels was 2-for-3 with four points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 17 minutes. … Teague did not do much scoring, but his five helpers were important in leading the way as the Hawks moved the ball in the first half.
Second quarter, 1:51, Hawks 54-42: We had a Sean Williams sighting. The 6-foot-10 forward/center, who was signed just last night, played like it in his first minute of action. One cannot expect too much of Williams in this game, but it is a chance to get a first look at him.
Second quarter, 5:38, Hawks 42-35: The Hawks countered by sticking some of their reserves in the game, allowing the Celtics to stay close. This would be interesting if it stayed close. Atlanta has the benefit of being able to bring back its first unit if need be, but the longer the Celtics' reserves keep things close, the more confidence the Celtics will be able to build if these teams end up meeting in the first round.
Second quarter, 8:15, Hawks 38-31: For the second game in a row, the Celtics went deep to their bench and they provided some decent minutes. This is not a unit that will win the NBA Finals, but they forced a few turnovers and shared the ball on offense.
JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic and Daniels did not give up much distance to the Hawks. Daniels in particular play solid defense against Tracy McGrady, who is not the scorer he once was but can still put the ball in the hoop.
End of first quarter, Hawks 34-27: Hawks point guard Jeff Teague was one of the few players who seemed impervious to Bradley's defensive pressure when they met the last time. Teague had 21 points and six assists when the Hawks played the Celtics two weeks ago, and he was productive in a much different way in the first quarter of this one. Teague missed both shots he took but had five assists and no turnovers, smartly running Atlanta's offense and letting Johnson be the deadly shooter he is. Johnson scorched the nets for 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the first quarter, tying Bradley for the game-high in points.
First quarter, 1:38, Hawks 32-23: Considering how many pieces Boston is missing, the Celtics did not fare so badly when they stayed within themselves. When they tried to get too fancy, like Bass trying to post up Smith or Marquis Daniels trying a double-crossover drive, the results were not so great.
Bradley, who seems to show another trick from his bag of skills every game, showed off his expanding offensive array by hitting five of his first seven shots. He was even able to get shots by dribbling off screens. If Bradley can learn how to run a pick-and-roll, he would have almost every weapon necessary to be a starting NBA point guard.
First quarter, 7:22, Hawks 16-7: This one started out just about how one would expect looking at the teams on paper. Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, the only two legitimate stars on the floor, scored 11 of the game's first 23 points. Smith muzzled Bass, forcing the Celtics power forward to miss his first three shots.
6:34 p.m.: Ladies and gentlemen, your Maine Red Claws!
Now, that's really not accurate or fair to the guys who will be in uniform for the Celtics, but we're just having a little bit of fun.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were added to the list of Celtics who will miss this game, giving the C's a fairly decent starting five on the "DNP" list with Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus and Rajon Rondo already out for health reasons.
Zaza Pachulia, who has wiped the floor with the Celtics to the tune of 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in two meetings this season, is mercifully sidelined with a sprained left foot.
The Celtics already own the head-to-head tiebreaker by beating the Hawks in their first two matchups.
The probable starters are listed below.
3 p.m.: This game could be crucial to the Celtics' chances of securing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but coach Doc Rivers has made clear that home court is not his top priority.
The Celtics (37-26) will rest Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus on Friday against the Hawks (37-25), who own a half-game advantage on Boston for home court in the best-of-seven first-round series. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are possible candidates for rest as well, as Rivers values health over possibly fatiguing his players by pushing too hard to open the playoffs at home.
See if the rest of the Celtics can pull of a victory in Atlanta and join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7 p.m.