BOSTON — The Celtics wrapped up the unofficial first half of their season on the highest of notes Wednesday night.
Boston welcomed the NBA-leading Atlanta Hawks to TD Garden for their final game before the All-Star break and came away with a stunning 89-88 victory. Evan Turner’s floater in the lane with 0.2 seconds remaining proved to be the difference.
Atlanta jumped out to a sizable lead almost immediately, scoring 16 of the game’s first 18 points. The insertion of Jae Crowder at the 4:59 mark of the first seemed to spark the Celtics, though.
Even after putting on an atrocious first-quarter shooting performance (18.5 percent shooting, 1-for-11 from three), Boston trailed by just 10 entering the second. Crowder didn’t add much on the offensive end (1-for-8, two points), but his tenacity in the defensive end helped contain the normally free-flowing Hawks offense.
In fact, Boston outscored Atlanta 23-16 in the immediate aftermath of the Hawks’ 16-2 opening run.
The Hawks recovered in the latter part of the second quarter, though, and led 49-34 at the break.
MARCUS FOR MARCUS
After a rough first half by Marcus Smart (1-for-8 shooting, four turnovers), Marcus Thornton started in place of the rookie to begin the third quarter and immediately went into full-on microwave mode. Thornton buried 3-pointers on his first two shot attempts in the frame and elevated to block on a DeMarre Carroll layup.
Carroll quickly got his revenge with consecutive threes of his own, but continued to hang around for the remainder of the quarter, trailing just 72-61 heading into the final 12 minutes.
Smart’s benching also didn’t last long. He reentered the game for Turner just before the quarter’s midway point.
COUNTING OUT KORVER
Boston actually did a good job of containing 3-point maven Kyle Korver, holding one of the NBA’s best shooters to four points on 1-of-5 shooting. Luckily for the Hawks, the other four members of their vaunted starting five were a bit more productive.
Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Carroll all scored in double figures, with Horford leading the way with 22 points and 12 rebounds. The big man also was by far the most efficient scorer in the game, finding the bottom of the basket on 11 of his 15 field-goal attempts.
But the Celtics were not dead just yet. A Jared Sullinger three cut the Atlanta lead to just six with 5:51 to play, and a Marcus Smart three made it 84-82 with 2:17 to go and sent the Garden crowd into hysterics. Less than a minute later, the deficit stood at one after an Avery Bradley trey, and again after a tough Sullinger bucket.
A huge rebound by Tayshaun Prince gave the ball back to Boston for a chance to win. After a Brad Stevens timeout, Turner did the rest. Atlanta came up empty on a last-gasp inbounds play, giving the Celtics the signature win of their season so far.
Up next: The Celtics will enjoy nice, eight-day layoff before returning to the hardwood next Friday, when they’ll take on the Kings in Sacramento.
Thumbnail photo via Jessica Hill/Associated Press