Hawks
Celtics
65 - 99 Final
  for this game

Celtics crush Hawks, advance to play Cavs

May 4, 2008 - 9:24 PM BOSTON (Ticker) -- Two decades later, the Atlanta Hawks didn't put up the same fight. But it was the same result for the Boston Celtics.

Paul Pierce scored 22 points as the Celtics ambushed the Hawks with a resounding 99-65 victory in Game Seven of their Eastern Conference first-round series Sunday.

Kevin Garnett added 18 points and 11 rebounds for the top-seeded Celtics, who won four times at home in the best-of-seven matchup by an average of 25.2 points.

"I really had no doubt in my mind how we was going to come out tonight," Pierce said. "You kind of saw it from the guys after Game Six on the plane, wasn't a lot of talking, we knew that we let a couple of games get away in Atlanta, and I just knew we was going to take care of business tonight."

Boston will face the fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference semifinals in Game One on Tuesday.

"We just have to let this go, we can celebrate for maybe an hour, but then let it go and back to the scouting report," Boston center Kendrick Perkins said. "Besides LeBron (James), they have a lot of guys that can play, they just came out of a tough Washington series, we just have to have another great focus."

In 1988, the Celtics' Larry Bird and Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins engaged in one of the most famous scoring duels in NBA history in Game Seven of their Eastern Conference semifinals series at the old Boston Garden.

Bird outscored Wilkins, 20-16, in the final period of a 118-116 victory for the Celtics, who didn't even need to play their starters in the final 12 minutes of this one.

But it was a wonder Boston even needed a decisive game against eighth-seeded Atlanta, which shocked the basketball world by putting up a fight in this series after qualifying for the postseason with a sub-.500 mark.

"I just told them after the game that that was the Celtics, I thought, offensively, that we played terrific basketball tonight," Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "The defensive energy was off the charts and the offense was great."

"We proved a lot of people wrong, we got on the stage where people know who we are and we just weren't able to get over that hump to be able to shock the world," Atlanta forward Josh Smith said.

The Hawks didn't show that same grit Sunday.

"We did not come ready to play tonight, we are so inexperienced, and this is Game Seven," Hawks guard Joe Johnson said. "Supposedly, it's all out on the line tonight, and we didn't do nothing tonight.

"We acted like this was just a regular game and we didn't come to play at all, they were more physical than us and they just really outplayed us tonight."

After holding Atlanta to just 26 points in the first half, Boston right away went to Pierce, who nailed a 3-pointer to start the third quarter and scored 11 in the period to help the Celtics build a 36-point advantage entering the fourth quarter.

"My whole focus was just trying to be - game in and game out - what we was trying to do," Pierce said of not talking with the media since his fine for an inappropriate gesture earlier in the series.

"I just need to take a step back to myself and not be a distraction to others, and everything that was going on - on and off the court. I just didn't want to bring that attention back on my team, so we could just focus on playing basketball."

Despite the blowout, tensions ran high in the third thanks to Hawks forward Marvin Williams, who was called for a flagrant-two foul on Boston guard Rajon Rondo. The second-year point guard was clotheslined by Williams, who was subsequently ejected.

"I knew no question it would be a flagrant, but a flagrant two?" Williams said. "Like I said, I was trying to catch him, I wasn't trying to take him out, it was a good call, I saw it on TV, and it did look pretty bad, so I can't argue that at all. I just want Rondo to know that I would never try to hurt him."

"We had to protect each other, it could have done more damage," Celtics guard Ray Allen said. "It certainly looked bad, just from him hitting his back, I'm sure he will feel it (Monday) and, at that point, we don't want anybody to get hurt and we just had to watch our backs."

Rondo hit the ensuing free throws and Allen drilled a 3-pointer to give Boston a 56-28 lead with 8 1/2 minutes left in the third. However, the tone for the contest was set in opening period.

Boston began the game with aggressive interior play, outscoring Atlanta, 20-4, in the paint. Perkins was a big part of that, collecting eight points and six rebounds during that span.

"Kendrick was phenomenal, I thought he set the tone defensively as much as anyone," Rivers said.

As a result, the Celtics were able to hold the Hawks to a record-low 43 points through three quarters.

Atlanta barely avoided the worst scoring output in a Game Seven - a distinction that belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who netted just 61 vs. the Detroit Pistons in the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals.

"Thought as far as communication we was talkative, loud, we wanted to cut down on our fouls, we wanted to play defense with our feet and our chests," Garnett said.

Garnett, who had a confrontation with Hawks forward Zaza Pachulia in Game Four, set a hard pick on him late in the third quarter - nearly causing another fracas. The All-Star forward was taken out of the game to a standing ovation.

"I haven't slept so I should get some sleep tonight, been up for (darn) near 24 hours just thinking about Game Six and the things we need to do tonight," Garnett said of his emotions.

But unlike Bird in 1988, Garnett has been criticized for disappearing in the fourth quarter of big games, which was one of the contributing factors to the Hawks' spirited effort.

Atlanta, which showed surprising bravado in three home wins in the series, shot a dismal 29 percent (24-of-82) and looked intimidated from the start in the face of a boisterous crowd at TD BankNorth Garden.

"The only thing we can take from this series is that we are pretty good at home, other than that, we did nothing on the road," Johnson said. "We got defeated by 25 or 30 points here in Boston every night."

Tough rookie Al Horford - a catalyst in the first six games - had eight points and 12 rebounds and Johnson added 16 points for the Hawks, who were making their first appearance in the postseason since 1999.

"We have played well, just not good in Boston," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "I still tip my hat to the locker room because they got a lot of respect from the city of Boston, the fans and the team, we have a lot to build on for the future with our team."