BOSTON - Wednesday night's game between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks was initially supposed to be on national television, but ESPN bumped it to air the Knicks and Bucks game. Evidently, someone forgot to tell Rajon Rondo about the switcheroo.
Rondo had his patented national television triple-double (although it was only televised regionally), totaling 10 points, 10 rebounds and 20 assists (tied for a season high) and the Celtics won an overtime thriller against the Hawks, 88-86, at TD Garden. It was Rondo's 19th career triple-double and his 19th straight game with double-digit assists.
"Putting the ball in the hole, pretty simple," Rondo said about his teammates. "They were concentrating a little bit more today. I don't know, you've got to ask them. I think a lot of them were uncontested shots, we got out, we got stops. We did a great job rebounding and that hasn't been what we do best but tonight we did an excellent (job) rebounding the ball."
"Rondo was sensational; didn't want to come out," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "He said, 'Because we've got tomorrow off, let me just go.'"
Boston and Atlanta were gridlocked for most of the game. The Celtics led 26-25 through one quarter, but were outscored 23-14 in the second. A strong third quarter (Boston outscored Atlanta 27-20) put the C's right back in the game, and the Hawks were outscored 17-16 in the fourth, locking the score at 84 as the clock hit the triple zeros. Boston shot 41.6 percent (37-for-89) but out-rebounded Atlanta, 56-39, and had 19 turnovers.
"I've got to tell you guys, that was the worst game we've ever won," said Rivers. "And you thought I'd say something else ... I mean, we didn't play well. I mean, we just kept hanging in there. You could see the fatigue and it's amazing how things backfire. You rest Kevin (Garnett) and you get a good break and then all of a sudden he has to go in overtime."
Garnett had another strong game, finishing with 22 points and 12 rebounds but fouled out in overtime. Brandon Bass, who briefly went down in overtime but walked off the injury, had 21 points and 10 rebounds while captain Paul Pierce scored 24.
Mickael Pietrus even made his return to action and provided the Celtics with key minutes off the bench. Pietrus received a well-deserved standing ovation when he checked into the game late in the first quarter, and he went on to lead the bench in scoring with eight points.
"I felt great, " Pietrus said. "It was just trying to bring that energy because I knew that guys travel light and they are going to need that extra energy and obviously that's what I did and I'm very happy that we could keep winning and stay positive."
The Hawks were led by a 21-point game from guard Jeff Teague. Josh Smith scored 20 and also had 11 boards and Joe Johnson added 14 points for Atlanta, which was held to 41 percent shooting (34-for-83) and coughed the ball up 16 times.
"I think we definitely should have won," Johnson said. "Like I said, we had plenty of chances to win this game, but that's neither here nor there, they just pulled it out in the end."
After an offensive foul from Pierce with 5.3 second left, the Hawks looked to Johnson, who had just tied the game with a 16-footer with 46.6 second remaining, for the final shot. The ball was inbounded to Johnson, but the Celtics played phenomenal defense and double teamed him, forcing him to cough the ball up to Jannero Pargo, who missed a three.
"Yeah, that's why I really didn't want to run a pick and roll because I knew Rondo was going to jump out there and try and trap me to get the ball," said Johnson. "I thought we still got a good look at it, just didn't make it. I thought in that overtime, we couldn't come up with those plays we needed offensively."
Boston only scored four in overtime, but it was enough to capture its fifth straight win.
"It just says we have great character. Tough minded group, they really are," said Rivers. "You could see they wanted to win that game so bad, and you could see the way we played. Going into it, what I told the coaches is we've got to just keep it close. If we can keep this game, and hang around, and then the fourth quarter - that's how I felt going into the game."
The Celtics, who have an off-day on Thursday, head out on the road for a four-game road trip that includes their only back-to-back-to-back of the year against the Toronto Raptors (on Friday), the New Jersey Nets and the Charlotte Bobcats.