Final, Celtics 118-107: On a night when Paul Pierce’s triple-double was only a footnote and Rajon Rondo made an appearance at TD Garden, the shorthanded Celtics showed they can, indeed, top a good team without Kevin Garnett.
Jeff Green scored a game-high 27 points and Jason Terry added 24 points on 7-for-10 shooting off the bench as the Celtics earned their second consecutive win. Shavlik Randolph helped the Celtics maintain the lead by delivering effort during the middle portions of the game, when the Celtics occasionally have lulls. Randolph came within one point of his first double-double, with nine points and 13 rebounds in 21 quality minutes. Pierce checked in with 20 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.
Josh Smith had 18 quiet points as the Celtics took the season series, 3-1, and earned the valuable head-to-head tiebreaker for home court advantage in the playoffs, in the event they can catch Atlanta in the Eastern Conference standings.
Fourth quarter, 1:56, Celtics 114-101: OK, Celtics fans. You can all now safely relax.
With a fadeaway corner three by Green just before the shot clock expired and a step-back jumper by Pierce, the Celtics are back in control with less than two minutes to play. The Hawks are throwing the ball around, and if Jones’ lackadaisical effort to catch an errant pass by Shelvin Mack was any indication, they do not really seem that interested in protecting the ball.
Fourth quarter, 5:31, Celtics 105-94: One positive that may come out of the late-season injuries for the Celtics is that Green and Terry, who underachieved for much of the season, have been forced to step up. Both have 22 points to lead all scorers, with Terry stepping up with a 3-pointer out of a frantic loose-ball stretch to restore Boston’s double-digit lead.
Fourth quarter, 7:32, Celtics 98-92: And suddenly, it is just a six-point game.
This has the feeling of a game where the Celtics blow a sizable lead. It has had that feeling for most of the game, even when the Celtics lead by more than twice the current number. Pierce is stuck on 16 points, and the Celtics will need him to contribute more offensively to put this one away. A bunch of nice hustle plays by Randolph are not going to cut it.
Fourth quarter, 8:21, Celtics 98-87: If the Celtics just play with the same energy as Randolph the rest of the way, they will be in good shape. They cannot afford a letdown, as the Hawks showed in their previous meetings, but as long as Randolph is throwing his weight around, they might not have to worry about that.
Randolph is still a point shy of his double-double, but he is now up to 13 boards. Thanks in large part to his energy, the Celtics now lead by a healthy 10-point margin in points in the paint, 44-34, and have edged ahead in overall rebounds 34-33.
End of third quarter, Celtics 92-80: While Randolph is getting the biggest cheers — he is now one point away from a double-double — Green is continuing to blossom into the player Danny Ainge felt he could be when he inked Green to that allegedly terrible contract last summer. Green has 20 points to lead all scorers after three quarters, while Pierce is stalking a triple-double with 16 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
The question is, which would be more impressive, a triple-double by Pierce or a double-double by Randolph, considering one of those guys was playing in China two months ago?
Third quarter, 2:41, Celtics 83-73: Randolph may just be playing himself into a rotation spot for the playoffs. Amazing as it may seem, the former 10-day signee has played a major role in the Celtics building this lead, which hit 15 points at one stretch.
Randolph has seven points, nine rebounds, and a block, plus four fouls. That last number is not necessarily bad, as Randolph at least is not giving Atlanta anything easy down low. The Hawks’ shooting percentage has dipped to 42 percent and the Celtics have taken the lead in points in the paint for the first time all game.
Halftime, Celtics 66-56: The Jet is flying early in this one.
Terry, who only likes to bust out his “JET” flight motion at very special moments, struck his pose in the first half as the Celtics sprinted into an 11-point lead at one time. Terry has a team-high 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting, tying Smith for the most points scored by any player in the game.
The Celtics’ spurt included another slam by Williams and some more hustle by Randolph. The Celtics are shooting nearly 57 percent from the field and have only six turnovers at the break.
Still, they need to shore up the defensive end if they want to put these Hawks away. Remember, these guys have already gone to overtime and double-overtime this season, and for all the roaring from the TD Garden crowd, this is only a 10-point game.
Second quarter, 7:28, Celtics 42-40: Despite interior defense that would be bad, if it even existed, the Celtics are pushing the pace when they get the ball and hold an ever-so-slim lead almost halfway through the second quarter. Shavlik Randolph, who is getting some significant minutes here early on, has provided some energy off the bench, which is all the Celtics really need down low.
Terrence Williams, the backup point guard of the future, caught the ball on the break, cradled it and threw down a tomahawk dunk to give the Celtics their lead. The crowd loves it, but if the Celtics do their work early on defense, they will give their fans more plays like that to cheer about.
End of first quarter, Celtics 32-30: Things certainly improved quickly for Green, who followed his 0-for-4 start by hitting three of his last four shots in the first quarter. He has been more aggressive than anybody on the floor except Josh Smith, who has put up 12 shots in the first 12 minutes.
Both teams had some success shooting the ball, with the Celtics well over 50 percent from the field and the Hawks close at 48 percent. Teague in particular has given the Celtics fits. No guard gets by Avery Bradley as consistently easily as Teague. The Celtics have done a decent job of protecting the rim with blocked shots, but it would be more helpful to them if they would just stop the ball in transition.
First quarter, 7:49, game tied 9-9: Jeff Green has come out with aggression, taking the ball strong to the hoop and putting up four shots already. Unfortunately for him, the iron has been unkind and he missed all four of those shots.
The makeshift backcourt of Pierce and Bradley has his back, though. Bradley already has two steals, including a tip-away that led to a run-out layup for Pierce to tie the game.
Atlanta went with an interesting starting five of Teague, Smith, DeShawn Stevenson, Johan Petro and Ivan Johnson, and it has led to some weird matchups. The Hawks have already used Johnson and Petro on post-ups on the left block. Technically they had mismatches because their defenders were smaller, but neither is really known for his offensive post game, so giving either of them the ball is probably just what the Celtics wanted the Hawks to do.
6:53 p.m.: The mounting injuries have taken a psychological toll on the Celtics, but they get a small emotional boost with the return of Courtney Lee. The fifth-year guard said he will test his sprained ankle, although Doc Rivers said he will bring the Western Kentucky product off the bench.
6:17 p.m.: The Celtics will not have to worry about one big part of their game plan against the Hawks. Horford, who has always presented problems for Boston with his size and midrange shooting ability, is out with a stomach illness. Ivan Johnson, Garnett’s good friend (not), will start in Horford’s place.
4:28 p.m.: The Celtics are assured of being shorthanded. The question is just how shorthanded they will be.
With Kevin Garnett still sidelined with inflammation in his left ankle, Courtney Lee took part in shootaround Friday morning. He is being called a game-time decision with a sprained left ankle. For now, the Celtics have listed the same five starters that opened Wednesday’s game in Cleveland. But the listing is infamously unreliable, so be sure the check back before the game with the actual starters and an update on Lee’s status.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: Jeff Green and the Celtics better have gotten their rest, because fresh off a buzzer-beating win over the Cavaliers, they get to host a foe who never makes things easy on them.
The Celtics (37-34) have played the Hawks (40-32) three times this season, and two of those three games have needed more than the regulation 48 minutes to get settled. Most recently, the Celtics survived a 107-102 overtime win at TD Garden on March 8 to give them a 2-1 advantage in the series.
That head-to-head record is important because the Celtics come into Friday 2 1/2 games behind the Hawks, who they are chasing for the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. By beating Atlanta in their final regular-season meeting, the Celtics could claim the tiebreaker in the event both teams finish with identical records.
Join us for updates and analysis from TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.