for this game

Pierce beats buzzers as Celtics hand Hawks first loss

Nov 13, 2008 - 5:18 AM By Mike Petraglia PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

BOSTON (Ticker) -- Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics picked up where they left off against the Atlanta Hawks last spring.

Pierce hit a fall-away jumper over Al Horford with five-tenths of a second remaining on his way to 34 points as the Celtics handed the Hawks their first loss of the season, 103-102, on Wednesday at TD Banknorth Garden.

"Once I went right, I had the big guy on me," Pierce said of Horford covering him 20 feet from the basket. "I sort of got to my sweet spot and I felt good the whole time. The play was to get the ball to Kevin (Garnett) and if they switched off, either hand off or he would take the drive down the lane, but they switched and put Horford on me and I knew I could get to my spot. I got to it and thank God, it went in."

Garnett added 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Celtics, who improved to 8-1 in defense of their NBA championship from last June.

"The last play was drawn up, get the ball to Paul Pierce, get the (heck) out of the way," Garnett said. "Superman's in the booth. Let's go home. That was the play and, if you don't believe that, just ask Doc Rivers and he'll say the exact same thing."

Atlanta's Marvin Williams hit a 3-pointer from the right baseline with 7.4 seconds remaining to put the Hawks up, 102-101, before Pierce's game-winner.

The Celtics' coaching staff then drew up a play for Pierce to get the ball to Garnett with Pierce available as a second option.

"It was a great shot by Paul," Rivers said. "I told him, 'Average execution,' but it worked out for us. It's funny, we were talking offense, offense, offense and then we give up 102 points. It's a good win for us, though."

Horford said he had no regrets about his defense.

"At that point, you want to man up and play 1-on-1," he said. "I tried to follow him and play the best defense I could. (Pierce) hit a good shot."

The fiercely contested game was the first meeting between the two Eastern Conference foes since Boston prevailed in seven games in the first round of the playoffs on its way to the title.

Joe Johnson, another star of last spring's matchup between the teams, scored 28 points to lead Atlanta, which had won its first six games to start the season - its best start since winning 11 straight to start the 1997-98 campaign.

At the start, the Hawks were intent on showing their early-season performance was no fluke. Flip Murray drained a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer to cap a nine-point period, which led all scorers.

"I thought, early on, we controlled the post and then made the big run to go up 16 and they came right back and made their run," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "You've got to give them credit, that's what champions do. The third and fourth quarter was just back and forth, nobody wanted to give an inch, they just made the great play at the end to secure the win."

Trailing after one quarter is nothing new for Boston, which has been behind after the first 12 minutes in each of the last five games.

The Hawks took a 44-28 lead before Boston responded with an 18-2 run that tied the game at 46-46. Boston finished the first half on a 23-7 spurt that forged a 51-51 halftime lead.

"Overall, I just thought it was a good win for us, and another win where we didn't play great but we're still winning games," Rivers said. "And that is a good sign, not a bad sign."

The third quarter featured a back-and-forth struggle between the two teams who came in with a combined 13 wins and one loss. There were 12 lead changes with Atlanta claiming a slim 77-76 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

With two minutes remaining in the fourth and the shot clock winding down, Pierce drained an 18-footer from the right wing to put Boston up, 95-91. Moments later, he drove to the basket and converted a layup to make it 99-95.

Johnson hit a runner from the right side with 33 seconds remaining to tie the game at 99-99 before Pierce gave the Celtics a two-point lead with two free throws, setting the stage for the wild final sequence.

"It means a lot," Woodson said of his team's growth since the playoffs last spring. "I think we've grown a lot since last season, thanks to the Celtics. They put us in that mode, that frame of mind, that you know you've got to come out every night and dig in and play. I told our guys before the game that it was going to be a dog fight.

"I know how we played defensively and they played the same way, so it was one of those games that somebody had to grind out, and Paul makes a great shot."