for this game

Johnson torches Celtics as Hawks level series

Apr 29, 2008 - 4:56 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) - Somebody forgot to tell Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks that they weren't supposed to make this a series.

Johnson poured in 20 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter and Josh Smith added 28 and seven blocks to lead the eighth-seeded Hawks to another stunning 97-92 upset of the top-seeded Boston Celtics in Game Four of their Eastern Conference first-round series on Monday.

Mike Bibby scored 18 points and rookie Al Horford grabbed 13 rebounds for the Hawks, who rallied from 10 points down in the fourth to tie the series at 2-2 heading into Game Five at Boston on Wednesday.

A two-time All-Star, Johnson was unstoppable in the fourth, scoring at will against one of the elite ranked defenses in the league.

"I just wanted to try to be the aggressor," Johnson said. "I knew that we were down by 10. Somebody had to step up. If I'm going to be the All-Star on this team, I have to step up. And I did."

The former Celtic ignited a decisive 21-6 Hawks' run with a 3-pointer just 22 seconds into the quarter, cutting Boston's lead to seven and capped it with a spinning layup to give Atlanta an 86-80 edge with 3:31 left.

"It was an incredible performance," Horford said. "I'm happy for our team, but especially for him. He's one of those All-Stars that everybody forgets about or doesn't give credit to. He's a killer."

Johnson couldn't miss in the stretch, draining a wide-open 3-pointer after Leon Powe slipped to slice through the lane with ease through three defenders. Johnson, who is sometimes overlooked, finished 7-for-10 from the field in fourth.

"(Johnson) just got hot," Boston guard Ray Allen said. "Defensively, we didn't do a great job when he got into our paint."

"Boston's defense is set up for Joe Johnson," Atlanta forward Marvin Williams said. "That guy was scoring one-on-four, every time down the court."

Boston made a half-hearted run late, cutting the lead to 95-92 on James Posey's 3-pointer with four seconds left. But Smith sent the sellout crowd at Philips Arena home happy by draining two free throws in the waning seconds.

Atlanta entered the series as a 70-to-1 underdog. Even after their 13-point win in Game Three, the Hawks were nine-point underdogs on their home floor on Monday.

"Everybody said that we were going to get swept," Williams said. "When everybody is betting against you, it's easy. When nobody expects you to win, it's easy. We knew what we could do. We got the best team in the NBA at 2-2."

Many of the so-called experts picked Boston in a rout in the series after taking all three meetings by double figures from Atlanta during the regular season.

Even Atlanta coach Mike Woodson was in awe of his team's accomplishment.

"It's unbelievable," Woodson said. "I can not be more proud of a group of guys. To see where we started and where we are today, this is so great for this franchise and the fans that support us."

Celtics guard Rajon Rondo doesn't want to end up like Dallas, which was defeated by eighth-seeded Golden State in the first round last season.

"You don't want what happened with Dallas last year (to happen again)," said Rondo, who had 14 points and 12 assists. "We didn't expect this, but it's part of it. We have to move on."

The Celtics finished the third on a 13-2 spurt to take a 75-65 lead into the final quarter. Rajon Rondo had six points and two assists and Posey scored four in the run.

Ray Allen scored 21 points and Kevin Garnett added 20, nine rebounds and six steals for the Celtics, who missed nine of their first 10 shots in the fourth.

"We have to find our team chemistry quick," Boston guard Sam Cassell said. "Game Five is not going to be easy just because we are at home. The Hawks have confidence and think they can beat us. They've beaten us the past two nights, so we're going to step it up back in Boston."

In a repeat of Game Three, the Celtics started the game strong. The Big Three of Allen, Garnett and Paul Pierce knocked down six of their first seven shots to give Boston a 16-3 lead.

But the Hawks, who looked tentative to start the game, fought right back.

After missing its first four shots to start the game, Atlanta connected on 10-for-16 shots the rest of the way to build a 29-24 advantage after one quarter.

The Hawks are not only beating the Celtics on the court, but they are also getting under their skin.

Tempers flared midway through the second quarter after ZaZa Pachulia fouled Garnett while going for a rebound under the Boston bucket. Garnett appeared to land an elbow to Pachulia's chest after the play and the 24-year-old big man got into the face of the Celtic star as they exchanged words.

"I don't take anything from anybody," Pachulia said. "The message was, 'We're right here, even if we lose. It's not going to be easy.'"