BOSTON - Kevin Garnett may be the 'Big Ticket,' but you can also call him the Hawk killer, too. Garnett came up big in Game 7 of the Boston Celtics' opening round series against the Atlanta Hawks back in the 2008 playoffs, and he did so again in Thursday night's Game 6, finishing with 28 points and 14 boards as Boston eliminated Atlanta, 83-80, at TD Garden.
"He was phenomenal," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said about Garnett. "He bailed us out."
Garnett scored 14 of his 28 points in the second half, including the important go-ahead bucket -- a 13-foot jumper with 30 seconds remaining, putting Boston up by one, 80-79.
"KG was an all-star tonight," said second-year Hawks coach Larry Drew. "He made some big shots and timely shots. He put them in a great position early. With his aggressiveness, he was really fighting for the low block. We tried to disrupt his rhythm as much as we could, at times by double teaming him, but at times we didn't get down there fast."
The numbers weren't pretty, as Boston shot just 41.9 percent (31-for-74) and 20 percent (2-for-10) from long range. Paul Pierce scored 18 and had seven assists, Rajon Rondo had 14 points and eight assists and Ray Allen helped out with seven points off the Boston bench.
"That's the beauty of this team," Pierce said. "When you got four guys, Kevin, myself, Rondo and Ray, it's never on one person's back. Kevin tonight obviously carried the low post, offensively and defensively, like he has for years, and we all take pressure off each other. ... You know and I'm glad I have the opportunity to play with a guy like that."
Josh Smith was one of four Hawks who scored in double-digits, finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds. Marvin Williams scored 16 points and also grabbed eight boards. Joe Johnson scored 17 and Al Horford, playing in his third game back after a four month absence due to a chest injury, had 15 points, nine rebounds and seven turnovers in defeat.
Boston found itself in a 31-25 hole early in the second quarter, but used a 16-0 run to pull ahead 41-31. Atlanta, which led by as many as eight in the period (28-20 at 9:22), regained its footing to close out the half on a 10-6 run and bring its halftime deficit to six, 47-41.
"We had some bad shots," said Drew. "We had some turnovers and those led into transition baskets. I think if we went back and looked at how we defended their sets, I thought that we did a really good job. But we turned the ball over a few times and took some bad shots."
Johnson scored 10 in the third as the Hawks outscored the Celtics, 22-20, in the frame and trailed 67-63 going into the last quarter. A 10-foot fadeaway from Garnett with 8:42 left gave Boston a 74-65 lead, but the Hawks whittled away at the lead and eventually went up by one, 79-78, at the 2:05 mark before Garnett's jumper put Boston on top with 30.1 ticks left.
Atlanta then went to Smith, who missed a 23-footer with nine seconds to play in the game.
Then, the unusual happened. Allen, who had been fouled after grabbing Smith's miss, was off target on his first free throw, but did make the second to make it an 81-79 game.
"I've never seen him miss that many free throws in my life," Rivers said of Allen, who was 4-or-6 from the free throw line Thursday night and 8-of-14 from the stripe in the series.
After a twenty-second timeout, Atlanta inbounded the ball to Horford , who was being guarded by the smaller Marquis Daniels. Atlanta flipped Horford the ball with an open look at the basket, forcing Daniels to foul. Fortunately, Horford could only make one-of-two free throws, and after two free throws from Pierce, the Celtics emerged with the series victory.
"Well, we wanted to go small with one big," Rivers said about his decision to insert Daniels into the game. "And the mistake we made ... Marquis should've been guarding the ball, out of bounds, and Kevin should've been on (Al) Horford. They got mixed up, and we got lucky."
Boston will face the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the playoffs, with Game 1 being played on Saturday night at TD Garden. Tip off is set for 8 p.m. EST (TNT/WEEI).