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Hawks defeat Celtics in Game 1

This news story was published on April 30, 2012.
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By Michael Cunningham, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution –

ATLANTA — After two-time All-Star Al Horford went down with injury and some observers wrote off the Hawks, they quietly stayed the course while posting the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

The Hawks also didn’t say much when Celtics coach Doc Rivers basically conceded home-court advantage in the playoffs against Atlanta by resting his stars over the final two weeks. The Hawks remained silent when analysts pondered if the season-ending knee injury to Chicago’s Derrick Rose meant Boston had a clear path to the conference finals.

(PHOTO: The Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith, center, covers up a lose ball against the Boston Celtics’ Brandon Bass, right, and Kevin Garnett during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, Sunday, April 29, 2012. The Hawks defeated the Celtics, 83-74.)

So maybe that was built up fury that the Hawks unleashed on the Celtics Sunday at Philips Arena.

The Hawks blitzed Boston with an early barrage of sizzling shooting and stifling defense to electrify fans at Philips Arena. Atlanta staggered the Celtics with that opening frenzy and then held off a furious Boston rally to earn an 83-74 victory.

“We don’t listen to the naysayers,” Hawks guard Joe Johnson said. “The game is played on the court, not on paper. We are going to do whatever it takes to advance to the next round.”

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Tuesday at Philips Arena. It’s possible Boston’s All-Star point guard, Rajon Rondo, will be suspended for that contest after he ejected in the final moments of Game 1.

That was part of a wild finish in which Boston whittled Atlanta’s 71-59 lead early in the fourth quarter down to 78-74 with 41 seconds to play. That’s when Rondo reacted angrily after a foul call against teammate Brandon Bass.

Official Marc Davis called a technical foul on Rondo for that outburst, then called another after Rondo walked toward him and bumped him with his chest. By rule, Rondo is subject to an automatic one-game suspension if league officials determine the contact with Davis was intentional and they also can add games “if circumstances so dictate.”

Rondo appeared to be upset because officials called Bass for a foul instead of awarding a jump ball. Bass was part of a scrum that converged on Hawks forward Josh Smith after he sprawled on the floor with the ball.

The play halted Boston’s surge: Johnson made one of the two technical free throws and Smith made both of his free throws. Instead of controlling the ball and a four-point deficit, the Celtics were suddenly down 81-74.

“You are always worried and concerned when you are losing momentum,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “That was a big play. I thought Josh did a good job going on the floor for the ball.”

The Celtics outscored the Hawks 56-52 over the final three quarters as both Smith and Johnson suffered through long scoring droughts. Smith missed 7 of 8 field-goal attempts in the second half and Johnson was 0 for 6.

The Hawks held the lead with spirited defense and good rebounding. Hawks point guard Jeff Teague added just enough offense with seven points in the final period, including a 3-pointer for a 76-68 lead and a driving score for a 78-70 advantage.

Teague finished with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. Smith led the Hawks with 22 points and his 18 rebounds helped Atlanta to a 50-41 edge on the boards.

The Hawks jumped the Celtics from the start. They raced out to a 16-6 lead behind three consecutive 3-pointers, two by Kirk Hinrich, and Smith’s three-point play. The Celtics called timeout but the Hawks continued to pour it on.

“We pride ourselves on good defense and we gave up 31 points in the first quarter,” Rivers said. “On the road, that gives them confidence. And once they have confidence, it’s hard to turn it off.”

The Hawks led by as many as 19 points in the second quarter before settling for a 49-35 halftime advantage. The Celtics appeared flustered by Atlanta’s fast pace early before settling down.

“That’s how we want to play every game,” Johnson said. “We want to make them get up and down the court. We don’t want a slowdown, grinding game.”

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