The Celtics grinded, grinded, and grinded so more en route to a gutsy 79-76 win against the Hawks on Monday night. Ray Allen heated up in the second half and scored 19 points total on 5-of-9 shooting (4-of-6 from 3-point territory), and Rajon Rondo dished out 13 assists. For the Hawks, Joe Johnson scored 25 points points on 9-17 shooting (4-of-5 from 3-point land).
The win improves to Celtics to 24-21 (8-13 on the road) and just two games behind the 76ers for the lead in the Atlantic Division.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Against the Odds: Paul Pierce picked up his fourth personal foul midway through the third quarter. Shortly after, in typical Atlanta fashion, Jeff Teague picked up a technical foul following a thunderous fast break jam. The dunk gave the Hawks an eight-point lead, which was the largest of the game for either team.
When Brandon Bass picked up his fourth foul just a few minutes later, the Celtics looked on their way to a third straight loss. But the Celtics were able to slowly build momentum the rest of the quarter and pull within one going into the fourth quarter, after a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Allen.
Venture the Vice: The Hawks have long considered to be an up-and-coming contender. Monday was a perfect example of why the Celtics are savvy veterans, while the Hawks are still very, very green.
There was the aforementioned misplaced Teague celebration. There was Josh Smith’s curious shot-selection: shooting 2-of-17 after starting the game 3-of-3 from the field. Perhaps most discouraging for Atlanta was that there was no one that stepped up to stop the bleeding as the Celtics went on a 23-7 run to open the fourth quarter, while taking a commanding 15-point lead.
Johnson did heat up late and led the Hawks on an 11-0 run to pull within four points with just over a minute left, but Smith missed an ill-advised three pointer which would have reduced the margin to just one. After trading free-throws, Teague missed a wide-open 3-pointer with 10 seconds left which would have tied the game.
Back On Board: The Celtics rebounding issues have been well-documented. The injuries to the front-court leave them lacking size on their roster. In the 10 games the Celtics have played in March going into Monday night’s contest, they have been out-rebounded by 120 boards.
Boston temporarily-rendered the issue on Monday, only getting out-rebounded 45-40.
Anemic, Yes. Relatively Speaking, Not Really: The first half of Monday night’s game featured terrible, terrible basketball. Both teams were a combined 28-of-78 shooting (35 percent). And this wasn’t a case of “nothing coming easy” in a match-up of two playoff-bound teams. Neither team was attacking to the basket — as evidenced by the combined eight free throw attempts between each team. Instead, both squads elected to take mid-range jump shots.
The bright side is the Celtics managed to stick around, on the road, despite the putrid performance. The largest lead held by either team was four, and Boston’s 11 first-half turnovers only led to eight points for the Hawks. Doc Rivers and his coaching half certainly won’t be proud of the first 24 minutes, but there is something to be said for hanging tough and staying within reach.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Benched: Greg Stiemsma continued provide Boston with up-and-down play off the bench. He is a liability on offense, but had another productive day defensively — registering four blocks. The rest of the bench no-showed again. Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, and Avery Bradley combined for 9 points on 3-10 shooting. The Celtics reliance on their starters — which has been an issue for much of the new Big Three era — is concerning, particularly in games where foul trouble is a problem.
The Truth Hurts: Pierce picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, a third in the second frame, and just a few minutes into the second-half, Pierce was tagged with a fourth foul. Consequently, the Celtics’ captain only played 17 minutes going into the fourth quarter.
In his sporadic playing time, The Truth’s impact was not only minimal, but detrimental. He was 2-of-10 shooting with only two rebounds and four turnovers.