Celtics-Hawks Live: Paul Pierce, C’s Let Gigantic Lead Slip Away in Unforgivable Double-Overtime Loss

Jeff Green, DeShawn StephensonFinal, Hawks 123-111: This is about as embarrassing as it can get for the Celtics. Leading by 27 points in the first half, the Celtics lost all focus and lost a double-overtime grinder. Even if the Celtics had won in thrilling fashion, this would not have been a feel-good win. No team can give up a 27-point advantage and feel good about how it competed — mostly because they did not really compete.

Kyle Korver had 27 points to lead all scorers, and not a single basket of his came inside the 3-point arc. The Celtics forced only 12 turnovers and committed an astonishing 21 turnovers themselves.

Rajon Rondo had a triple-double for the second straight night, but if that matters to you, then your priorities are not in order. The Celtics ran out of gas while playing in their second game in two nights, but if that is an excuse for losing a 27-point lead, then this loss was deserved. The losing streak is six games, which is exactly what it should be.

Second overtime, 1:29, Hawks 117-107: Horford is putting on a clinic. The veteran pivot is showing Sullinger how it’s done in the NBA, leaving the rookie’s head spinning with an array of tough moves. Horford went right over the top for a hook shot, as we mentioned, then drew shooting fouls on the next two possessions.

This one is ovah.

Second overtime, 3:21, Hawks 112-107: Aside from Lee, Garnett has really been the only Celtics player worth mentioning in the extra sessions. But now he’s gone. Garnett picked up foul No. 6 while trying to battle Horford for a rebound.

Not surprisingly, the Celtics’ low post defense suffered immediately. Horford took Sullinger straight into the post for a right-handed hook to extend Atlanta’s lead to five points. The way the Celtics have played, that might as well be a million-point lead.

End of first overtime, game tied 107-107: The best play the Celtics have run all night is for corner threes by Lee, Terry or Bradley, yet they decided to forget about that. Instead, even with Lee and Terry both on the court, Pierce isolated against Smith, who blocked Pierce’s attempt at a game winner. See you in double overtime.

Overtime, :23.6, game tied 107-107: Lee is all over the place. He picked up a hard-luck foul attempting to beat Harris to a loose ball and then troubled a jumper enough by Smith to force an off-balance pass to Harris. Lee then raced out to contest Harris’ 3-point attempt, which missed by a mile and was rebounded by Rondo. The quick timeout gives the Celtics the ball with the chance to take the lead.

Overtime, 1:40, Celtics 107-105: Terry is out, but Lee has stepped up as the go-to two-guard in this game. The defensive-minded guard out of Western Kentucky snuck in to tip away the ball from Horford and then drew a foul on Teague at the other end, hitting both free throws to give Boston the lead.

End of regulation, game tied 98-98: Amazingly, the Hawks did not try to go to Korver for the game-winner. They tried to a lob to Smith, and for one of the few times in this game, Pierce played defense. Smith’s baby hook shot did not even catch iron, and Lee’s desperation football pass at the buzzer fell short. To overtime we go.

Fourth quarter, :03.7, game tied 98-98: It figures that these teams would go almost a full minute without either getting a halfway decent shot. This is what Celtics games are now. It’s a race to see who can play the least ugly down the stretch.

Korver and Rondo got tied up, and the Hawks sharpshooter surprisingly won the jump ball. The Hawks got a quick timeout and have a chance to win at the buzzer.

Fourth quarter, 1:00, game tied 98-98: The final 60 seconds should be interesting. After building a 27-point lead in the first half, the Celtics have been outscored 58-41 in the second half and have a close one on their hands.

Pro tip for the Celtics: Cover Korver. You’re welcome.

Fourth quarter, 2:24, Celtics 98-96: Pierce is an all-time great, probably one of the top five Celtics players of all time, but if this game is any indication, he cannot be trusted defensively.

He simply does not seem to be paying attention. Earlier in the night, he failed to help out a recovering Garnett by helping on his man, Horford, farther down the floor, leading to an easy layup for Horford. Now, after Rondo and Lee have done an admirable job chasing Korver around screens, Pierce fell asleep and TRIED TO GO UNDER A SCREEN against Korver.

Predictably, Korver stepped behind the screen and drilled his eighth 3-pointer. Going under a screen against Korver is inexcusable.

Fourth quarter, 5:48, Celtics 87-84: Things have gotten frantic for both sides, as a one-time blowout has turned into a back-and-forth, up-and-down the court affair. Rivers is opting to go with the hot hands, keeping Green and Lee on the floor for now instead of starters Bass, who is scoreless, and Bradley.

Fourth quarter, 8:02, Celtics 81-80: The best offense for the Celtics has been to get the rebound, turn and throw a halfcourt outlet pass.

Sullinger found Lee for a pull-up jumper that way, giving the Celtics the lead back after the Hawks had taken control for the first time since the opening minutes. Yet that sort of heads-up defense leading to offense has been rare in the second half.

The Celtics have also been guilty of forgetting their assignments. Korver has stayed hot by hitting two more 3-pointers, the fourth and fifth triples of the second half for him. Pierce just does not pick up anybody away from the ball. It is debilitating for the Celtics, even when the other four guys do their jobs.

End of third quarter, Celtics 73-69: Garnett, Pierce and Rondo should be headed to a leisurely fourth quarter where they can check out early and rest up for Sunday’s showdown with the Heat. Instead, they are in a battle with the Hawks, who — as we warned — were not going to shoot 8 percent from three all night.

Kyle Korver finally broke out with three 3-pointers to help the Hawks make things interesting. The Hawks shot 58 percent overall in those disastrous 12 minutes.

Third quarter, 5:03, Celtics 62-59: They did it. The Celtics actually blew a 27-point lead and allowed the Hawks to come all the way back to tie it. Jason Terry, who has quietly had a solid shooting night with nine points on 3-for-4 shooting, canned a three from the left wing to recapture the lead for the Celtics.

The Hawks still have not led since the opening three minutes, but even if the Celtics recover and wrap this up, letting an almost 30-point lead slip away is disgusting.

Third quarter, 9:09, Celtics 59-47: Sorry, KG. Consistent effort might be something you say should be taken for granted, but with this team, that is not the case. The Celtics absolutely came out of the locker room complacent to begin the second half, and as a result they have been outscored 9-2 over the first three minutes of the third quarter.

Remember, a huge third quarter propelled the Celtics to a victory in Atlanta last time, so big comebacks in this building are certainly not impossible.

Halftime, Celtics 57-38: Less than 24 hours ago, Rivers told everybody that if the Celtics played like they did against the Knicks, they would beat a lot of teams. They are putting his theory into practice against the Hawks.

The Celtics shot 53 percent from the field and committed only six turnovers in a crisp first half  in which they led by as many as 27 points. They held the Hawks to 31 percent shooting as Atlanta picked up six assists as a team. That’s right, six assists in 24 minutes.

Green looked at home in the Highlight Factory, scoring 13 points to finish the first half one off the game’s scoring high. Teague boasted that mark with 14 points. Not everything was candy and lollipops for the Celtics, though. They gave Atlanta far too many open looks from beyond the arc and were fortunate the Hawks shot only 1-for-12 from distance. They also gave up nine offensive boards as rebounding once again was something of a problem for them.

So far, the Celtics have not had to pay for any of these transgressions because the Hawks have not been able to hit shots.

Second quarter, 4:09, Celtics 48-27: Doc Rivers is taking no chances with a big lead, even if it has been as many as 27 points. A five-game losing streak will make a coach understandably paranoid.

After three straight baskets by the Hawks, all of them right at the hoop, Rivers called for a timeout. Presumably, he wanted to remind his players that there are still more than 28 minutes left in this game.

Second quarter, 8:46, Celtics 39-17: Uh, oh. Teague broke the ice for the Hawks, nailing their first 3-pointer in nine attempts. Even though his shot only cut Boston’s advantage to 22 points, that could be a bad sign for the Celtics. The Hawks can score in streaks, especially from beyond the arc, so the Celtics need to shore up their perimeter defense quickly.

End of first quarter, Celtics 29-10: The Hawks are making these ultra-forgettable quarters against the Celtics a regular occurence.

As we mentioned, the Hawks were guilty of a nine-point frame earlier this season, and they have set a new low for an opening quarter with 10 points here. Smith was so upset with the effort — we assume — he picked up a technical foul after hacking Jeff Green on a drive.

Green has been refreshingly aggressive, going strong to the hoop and tying Rondo with a team-high eight assists after one. Now, if the Celtics can just keep this going and not give up a big lead once again.

First quarter, 2:33, Celtics 18-10: In addition to Horford, the Hawks had a ton of injury trouble coming into this game. Three key players were questionable at best, yet all three suited up and are on the court for the Hawks at the moment.

Devin Harris is dealing with a sprained ankle and Zaza Pachulia has a sore Achilles heel, but they joined Horford on the floor as the Hawks tried to chip into the Celtics’ lead. So far, the Celtics have done an awful job of protecting the 3-point line  against the fifth-best long-range shooting team in the league. The Hawks are 0-for-6 from downtown, but all their looks have been wide open.

First quarter, 6:14, Celtics 14-5: Avery Bradley keeps tugging at his left arm. That is a worrisome sign for the Celtics, who have to monitor the guard’s shoulders and ribs as well as the seasonal illness he has been dealing with recently.

That was about the old bad news the Celtics faced early, though. They have hit six of their first nine shots, with Rondo leading the way with six points. Rondo has two jump shots from the left elbow, too, making Jeff Teague pay for daring the Celtics point guard to shoot.

7:15 p.m.: The key to this game might be how the Celtics start out. They fell behind by 19 points last time against the Hawks and needed a 33-9 third quarter to eventually come out with the victory. Chances are the Hawks will not blow such a sizable lead again, so it is on the Celtics to stay close. They cannot count on Atlanta being so careless again.

Horford is, indeed going to participate. He will start at center alongside Smith and Johnson in a huge frontcourt for Atlanta.

7:01 p.m.: The Celtics’ quest to snap their five-game losing streak may get a little tougher. Reports out of Atlanta indicate center Al Horford, who is battling a left hamstring injury and has not played since Monday, could give it a go.

That could make things tough for the Celtics, who already have to deal with Josh Smith up front. For now, we will play it safe and go with the starters listed in the Hawks’ official game notes. (Disclaimer: These notes are often inaccurate, as they are put together hours before gametime and long before the coaches are even certain which players are available.)

Celtics
Kevin Garnett
Brandon Bass
Paul Pierce
Avery Bradley
Rajon Rondo

Hawks
Ivan Johnson
Josh Smith
DeShawn Stevenson
Kyle Korver
Jeff Teague

8 a.m. ET: Maybe Josh Smith can give his old high school teammate some pointers on getting through a rough stretch of losses. Smith and the Hawks are 5-8 in January, although they have won their last two by taking care of two sub-.500 clubs. As you might have noticed, that is exactly what the Celtics are at the moment.

Rondo’s triple-double was not enough Thursday to prevent the Celtics (20-22) from losing their fifth straight game. One of the few factors working in Boston’s favor is that the Hawks (24-18) are dealing with a sea of injury issues, most notably Lou Williams’ season-ending right knee injury. Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia and Devin Harris are all uncertain in their statuses for this game.

The Hawks still have Smith, though, even if the Oak Hill graduate’s numbers are down this season. They are also one of the most dangerous long-range shooting teams in the NBA, and contrary to their shoot-first, pass-seldom reputation, they are actually fourth in the league in assists.

Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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