for this game

Celtics edge Hawks, win 16th straight

Dec 18, 2008 - 6:58 AM By Phil Foley PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- The streak lives. Barely.

Kevin Garnett poured in 10 of his 18 points in the final quarter and Paul Pierce also added 18 as the Boston Celtics escaped with their 16th straight win, an 88-85 victory over the pesky Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

Ray Allen poured in 16 points and Rajon Rondo had 15, six rebounds and seven assists for the Celtics, who matched the third-longest winning streak in franchise history.

"It was nice to beat them tonight," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "We just executed like we needed to in the last stretch of the game, and we came out with a win."

Boston also won 16 in a row when the 1964-65 club rattled off those wins from December 19, 1964-January 22, 1965.?? The franchise mark is 18 - set from February 24-March 26, 1982.

"Sometimes things can seem as it's a bit more (larger) than anything else," Allen said of the streak. "The monkey's here. But it's a good monkey. It's great to be able to win games. I've never been on a streak like this."

The teams stubbornly exchanged the lead nine times in the final six-plus minutes until Garnett landed a jumper over Josh Smith to give Boston an 85-84 lead with 30 seconds left.

Atlanta had three cracks to regain the advantage on the ensuing possession but fell short after Perkins blocked Johnson's attempt at a put back. Atlanta quickly fouled Rondo, who split a pair of free throws to put Boston up two with nine seconds remaining.

Joe Johnson drove the lane on the ensuing possession - drawing the foul - but missed the back end of two free throws to cut Atlanta's deficit to 86-85.

Before the miss, the clutch Hawks captain - an 82 percent free-throw shooter - had connected on 7-of-7 from the charity stripe.

"I got a good look," Johnson said of the second offering. "I don't know what to say, it hit the back of the rim and bounced out."

Garnett grabbed the rebound and called timeout before Allen hit a pair of free throws with seven-tenths of a second left to provide the final margin.

Bibby had a look at an open three as the buzzer sounded, but it clanked off the front of the rim.

The Celtics could finally exhale.

"Hey what a relief," Pierce exclaimed when asked about Johnson's missed free throw. "We don't have to go to overtime and will get home at a decent hour."

Reigning world champion Boston has sliced through its NBA schedule with ease this season, winning all but two of its games entering its much-hyped contest against Atlanta at Philips Arena on Wednesday.

The Hawks took the Celtics to the brink of elimination in the first round of the playoffs last season, winning all three games here to become only the second No. 8 seed to take a top-seeded club to Game Seven in the opening round.

The young Hawks brought their "A" game to this star-studded game - which began with rapper Lil' Jon announcing the starting lineups and included a halftime concert by Ludacris.

Dr. J was sitting in a luxury box. Fellow NBA legend Dominique Wilkins was calling the game as part of the Hawks' television crew.

The game was nationally televised on ESPN - the first regular-season Hawks home game to be on national TV since the Jason Terry era.

But don't call this one a rivalry matchup to Garnett just yet.

"It's not a rivalry because you have to win some games to make it a rivalry," Garnett said.

Nevertheless, the Hawks almost pulled off the upset.

"They're the world champs," Williams said. "They're playing really well and have won 16 in a row. We enjoyed playing against Boston. It's a good game for us young guys to focus in mentally."

Atlanta led by as many as six in the fourth when Johnson nailed a 3-pointer with 7:00 minutes left on the clock.?? However, Boston clawed back into it with an 8-0 run, capped by a back-door layup by Rondo to give it a 74-72 advantage - its first lead since the second quarter.

"It was great for us to get a win, especially since we struggled here so much in the playoffs," Rondo said.

"We struggled offensively tonight, but we were able to grind it out in the end. The first team that was able to get a stop was the one that would win the game, and that's what it was."

Johnson poured in 20 points and Marvin Williams added 16 for the Hawks, who lost for just the second time at home this season.