Hawks get back in series with stirring home winApr 27, 2008 - 4:57 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
ATLANTA (Ticker) -- The Atlanta Hawks showed Saturday night that David can still sometimes slay Goliath.
Josh Smith had 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Joe Johnson added 23 points to lead the Hawks to an unlikely 102-93 win over the Boston Celtics in Game Three of their Eastern Conference first-round matchup at a raucous Philips Arena.
Rookie Al Horford, who inspired his club prior to the contest, played like a tested veteran, collecting 17 points, 14 rebounds and six assists for Atlanta, which cut Boston's lead in the series to 2-1.
"Those two games that we played in Boston were blowout games, and I'm sure the Celtics thought this series was over," Smith said. "It was good to have that fan support. We haven't been in the playoffs for nine years, and I wanted to give the city of Atlanta something to talk about and something to cheer about, and we did tonight."
Kevin Garnett tallied a game-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Paul Pierce added 17 points for the Celtics, who lost for the first time in 29 tries when holding a 2-0 advantage coming into Game Three.
"I told the guys after the game that every guy wanted to win the game by themselves, which you can't do," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "The only way you can (win) is as a team.
"This is a disappointing loss. I though the Hawks played harder most of the night than we did. ... Give them credit, they played great defense and pressured us."
Atlanta broke open a tie game with a 14-2 run in the third period. Rookie of the Year candidate Horford started the outburst with a nine-foot turnaround jump shot with 6:13 remaining to give Atlanta a 70-68 lead.
Horford and All-Star Joe Johnson chipped in six each in the spurt, which was capped by Johnson's 3-pointer with 1:12 remaining to give Atlanta an 82-70 lead, sending the normally placid Philips Arena crowd into a frenzy.
"I could not think of a person that expected us to win a game," said forward Marvin Williams, who finished with 13 points. "For us to be down 2-1 and the next game on our home court is huge."
Atlanta, which led by as many as 15 points on Smith's 3-pointer with 7:02 remaining,let Boston cut the lead to seven on a dunk by Garnett with 46 seconds remaining. But Horford answered with a turnaround jumper with 22 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Philips Arena has not been a place of many memorable moments in its first nine years of existence, as neither the Hawks nor the Thrashers had won a playoff game here.
But in an arena that's largest accomplishment had been 17 consecutive sellouts by the rock band "Widespread Panic," the Hawks, who have not made the playoffs since the 1998-99 campaign, finally gave their fans a postseason memory to remember.
The normally sedate Atlanta crowd was in this one from the start, booing the Celtics during pregame introductions. They were in it all night long, keeping the throngs of Boston fans at bay during the contest and giving the Hawks a much-needed boost.
"I've never heard the crowd that loud, which was really huge," Williams said. "The Boston fans made it tough for us up there, and I felt like our fans made it hard for them tonight."
Atlanta's rookie center also helped boost the club's spirits prior to the contest with an assist from the Florida Gators' video crew.
Acting more like a tried-and-true veteran than a player with two games of playoff experience, Horford used a motivational tactic from two-time NCAA champion coach Billy Donovan.
The rookie had the Gators' video crew overnight a videotape of Muhammad Ali's improbable win over heavyweight champion George Foreman in Africa in 1974.
In that one, the heavily favored Foreman looked as if he was going to take down the underdog Ali early, having the boxing great on the ropes numerous times early in the fight before knocking out Foreman in the eighth round.
"It's kind of one of those things that I felt like I had to do something," Horford said. "If you watch that film, and don't get pumped up, (something's wrong)."
The Hawks took the film's message to heart.
"That video was big for us," Atlanta guard Josh Childress said. "It lightened us up. It didn't make (Boston) look so tough. It changed our mentality."
Atlanta, which entered this one with the largest win disparity against a No. 1 seed since the top-seeded Chicago Bulls swept the Miami Heat in 1996, entered Saturday facing seemingly insurmountable odds.
The club, which entered this one losing its first two games of the series by an average of 21.0 points, was installed as a nine-point underdog on its own floor. The Hawks also dropped all three games of the regular-season set by double-digit margins.
But Horford set the tone early for Atlanta, bloodying Kendrick Perkins with a headbutt to the Boston center's nose one minute into the contest.
The rookie, who became the 24th player in playoff history to collect 20 points and 10 rebounds in his first postseason game, missed a triple-double in this one by four assists.
"He's playing like a man-child," Childress said. "He did a heck of a job on the court."
At the outset, it looked like it was going to be more like the matchup between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks - in which the troubled boxer knocked out Spinks in 93 seconds - than the epic "Rumble in the Jungle" as the Celtics came out strong.
The franchise with 16 championships tallied 13 of the game's first 21 points before Atlanta established that it was not going to be pushed around in this one.
But the club with no championships in Atlanta and one in franchise history embarked on a 22-7 run to take a nine-point lead in the first quarter.
The Hawks initiated the spurt by finding Smith inside for two dunks and a driving layup before finally finding the biggest missing piece of their game.
Atlanta, which was a miserable 3-of-19 from behind the 3-point line in the first two games of the series, drained two from behind the arc from Johnson and Smith to notch a 23-20 lead. Horford capped the spurt with a layup with 2:25 remaining to give the Hawks a 29-20 lead.
The Celtics punched back, erasing a nine-point second-quarter Hawks lead to tie the game, 56-56, at the break.
However, it was not enough to overcome a sensational night from Atlanta, which shot 47 percent from the field, finished 10-of-18 from the arc and outrebounded Boston, 43-35.
"Tonight, they were real aggressive and they attacked us," said Boston guard Ray Allen, who finished with 13 points. "Defensively, we didn't execute. ... We just got to get it back next game."
ATLANTA 102 FINAL
Apr 26 11:01 PM
ATLANTA 84 END, 3RD QTR
Apr 26 10:28 PM
ATLANTA 56 HALFTIME
Apr 26 9:26 PM
ATLANTA 32 END, 1ST QTR
Apr 26 8:47 PM
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