The Boston Celtics visited the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night hoping to stem a losing streak at two games and solidify their spot above the Eastern Conference cutoff line for the playoffs. It was far from pretty, but they ultimately did just that, holding off the Hawks, 79-76, for a much-needed win.
The Hawks were up one point heading into the fourth quarter, 51-50, in what had been a defensive slugfest up to that point. Then the Celtics heated up while the Hawks remained stagnant. Boston scored 29 points in the first quarter, at one point burying 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions.
Then things got a little crazy. Atlanta took over nine minutes to finally surpass 10 points for the quarter. Then they went on a 16-2 run over the next 2:50 to pull within one point, 77-76, with 10 seconds on the clock. Zaza Pachulia scored seven points and Joe Johnson buried three 3-point jumpers to turn an easy Celtics win into an impromptu nailbiter.
Mickael Pietrus and Paul Pierce both went 1-for-2 from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds to let the Hawks back in the game. Luckily, Ray Allen hit both of his attempts from the line to give the Celts a late 79-76 lead. The Hawks were able to get Jeff Teague a wide open look for the tie, but he airballed the 3-point equalizer badly:
Allen led the Celtics with 19 points on the night. He hit two 3-pointers and the two late free throws for eight points in the fourth quarter. Rajon Rondo recorded yet another double-double with 13 assists and 10 points, though he shot just 4-for-14 from the field. Pierce also struggled mightily, going 4-for-14 for the night. He was the only Celtics' starter to finish with a negative plus/minus rating.
Johnson had 14 points in the fourth quarter to finish with a Hawks-leading 25 on 9-for-17 shooting (4-for-5 from beyond the arc). Pachulia had 16 points and 13 rebounds on the night. Unfortunately, there was little offense to be found elsewhere. Josh Smith was the only other Atlanta player to hit double-digits, scoring 10 points. He went 5-for-20 from the field to get there, however. Atlanta shot 38.7 percent for the game, which was only marginally worse than the Celtics' 39.2 percent.