Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks  Friday, Nov 22, 2002  7:30pm
The Celtics were coming into this game after an impressive win against the New Jersey Nets two days previously.  Atlanta had been kind of an afterthought on the Eastern Conference schedule, but had made some improvements last year, and went so far as to literally guarantee they'd be in the playoffs, or season ticket holders would get a refund.  Now THAT'S confidence.

And there was no doubt that they had improved from last season, adding Glenn Robinson, the "Big Dog".  Of course, we have the funny-looking kid with the big nose on our side--SNOOPY!

The Hawks were going to hang their hat their height and fast ball movement, which meant that the Celtics absolutely HAD to play great defense, and they'd better bring their offense to boot.  In addition, The C's would be facing them the very next night in Atlanta, so nobody was likely to get any real rest on either team.  In the Good Guys' favor, Boston had beaten the Hawks 5 out of the last 6 times thay played in Boston, the single loss being back in November of 2001, during the period when the C's were just getting used to playing for Coach Jim O'Brien in earnest.
 

First Quarter:

Tony Battie won the tipoff for Boston, but the presence of Theo Ratliff prevented a basket.  The first period was eerily reminiscent of the Milwaukee game, where the Bucks seemed to score with far greater ease than Boston.  Glenn Robinson got cooking early, as did Jason Terry.

The quarter was largely spent with the Celtics constantly coming from behind.   Ira Newble was getting an early start on making life difficult on Paul Pierce.  The Celtics offense was only about half to three quarters working.  It was the defense--in particular Tony Battie, that kept the C's in the game.  Battie was going into the hoop and Eric Williams was right there with him on many of those trips.

Atlanta was passing the ball with crispness and precision, and their FGP was excellent.  By contrast, the C's had a lousy FGP, but it was the rebounding and second shot attempts that kept them close as the quarter wound down.

At this point, the refs made it clear that if there was ANY way to make a call against Boston, it was going to happen.  The first instance was a phantom lane violation on a jump ball by Pierce.  It would get much, much worse.

Speaking of Pierce, his offense started out very wobbly, much as it has been in recent games, but tonight, he was joined by the rest of the team.  The C's, it seemed, had to take two or three attempts for every one that went in.  For example, with 5:48 to go in the quarter, the score was 13-11 favoring Atlanta.  The Hawks were 6-9, and the Celtics were 4-15.  The only reason the Good Guys kept it competetive was their work on the boards at both ends.

This began a cycle that prevailed for a good part of the game--Atlanta would open up a lead, and the Celtics would play catch up, only to see the Hawks make another run.  It wasn't that Atlanta was such a great team, the C's were getting steadily worse on offense.  About the only exception was Antoine Walker, who at least looked relatively consistent.  One of the few offensive bright spots was when Eric Williams fed Battie for a fast dunk.  Battie is really starting to make an offensive living under the hoop.  Shortly afterward, Walker drew the defense, and fired a pass to an open Vin Baker under the hoop.

Yet, turnovers have plauged the C's the last couple of games, and they did their share of throwing it away tonight too.

At the time, it didn't seem like the C's were really shooting a lot of threes, but they got lost in all the other shots they missed--kind of all blurred together.

The quarter ended on a flurry of scoring as the Celtics got a tip from Baker, followed moments later as Newble hit a three.  Then Shammond answered a few seconds later, to be answered in turn by Jason Terry as the buzzer sounded, to give Atlanta the lead at 26-24.

That amended the first quarter's stats a bit--which helped Boston, as it raised their FGP to 32% in contrast to the Hawks shooting 50%.  The free throws, finally, favored Boston, which went 6-7 from the line, and Atlanta made their only attempt.  The C's outrebounded the Hawks 13-9.  Those rebounds--and the free throws courtesy of hard work on the boards, were barely enough to offset the Hawks' FGP.
 
 

Second Quarter:

The quarter opened as Atlanta faced a tough Celtics defense, yet still managed to find ways to score--often on the fast break.  This was something that surprised me, as the C's--when they're of a mind--can run a lot faster.  Yet the Green Team insisted on gamboling upcourt while Atlanta moved like their sneakers were on fire.

The Hawks quickly increased the lead to eight as the Celtics offense continued to sputter somewhat.  After a timeout to try to stop the bleeding, the C's continued to try to find ways to clamp down on defense.  Give Atlanta credit, they took advantage of every opportunity early on.  Robinson seemed to have complete freedom to shoot, as at first, no one seemed to be able to move him off his shot sufficiently to make him pass the ball.

As the second quarter progressed, Pierce seemed to be quietly getting a little smoother on his shots, but it was still tough going.  But he was the one to show the way to beat Robinson, by making him go left--something he apparently didn't want to do.  The problem was, Ira Newble was doing much the same to Pierce, hanging off Pierce's shooting arm.

Tough play by Boston cue the Hawks lead to one and Lon Kruger called a timeout to calm things down a bit.  Coming out of the timeout, the C's were sleeping on a defensive switch and ended up handing the Hawks an open two under the hoop.  I'm sure Coach O'Brien will have some words to say about that.  Probably the kind of words that don't generally make it into polite conversation.

Then, with less than 4 minutes to go, Tony Battie got mugged by two Atlanta players under the hoop while he was rebounding up a shot, yet this was somehow not in the act of shooting.  Of course they didn't even look at the part of that attack that cleared Walker right out of the lane toward the sideline.  God forbid they should send anyone to the line.  The Hawks then mugged someone to steal the ball, and when Delk wrapped someone up before even raising his arms for the shot, they count it as continuation and send Atlanta to the line.

Maybe Mark Cuban has a point.

Following this lagresse the Hawks put on a good show of rebounding of their own, and kept the Celtics at bay.  With the last minute and a half, the C's fought back, and behind Antoine Walker made the game a tie at 49 to end the first half.
 

HALFTIME

Cookie Break!!

To this point, the C's had overcome their offensive problems to keep the game literally even.  But this was a major problem for Boston.  If you let your opposition shoot 44%, and you shoot badly at 34% at halftime, you rarely win games.

The free throws, fortunately for Boston, were still good--and much better than recently, 11-14 compared to 7-8 for the Hawks.  Atlanta had more assists, 13-9, but that's largely due to their fast break running so very well.

The C's were rebounding maniacs, 27-22 overall, and 11-7 on the offensive boards alone to this point.  That led to a lot of 2nd chance points, 10-2 favoring Boston.

The rebounds and free throws were all that was keeping this game competetive.  The C's kept getting stuffed every time they went inside, and the outside shots were iffy--4-16 from the arc in the first half.  Tony Delk and Shammond Williams were not shooting well at all, and while Pierce was certainly improved, he was still shaky.  If the C's wanted to win this, they HAD to get the offense on track, and somehow ratchet up their defense--preferably by stopping Atlanta's fast break (good for 10 points so far) in it's tracks.  They also had to shake Newble off Pierce and stop Glenn Robinson.
 
 

Third Quarter:

The quarter began as the Hawks once again pulled ahead to a lead, but there was a crucial difference--the C's weren't able to make up ground.  The C's couldn't seem to catch a  break.  Walker was once again running the offense, and the C's got good looks, but shots just weren't falling.  Only Pierce seemed to be hitting at all, and that was what kept them relatively close offensively.  Shammond Williams and Tony Delk, to this point, were a combined 4 points on 1-10 shooting.  Meanwhile, Atlanta was slowly pulling away behind Theo Ratliff and Glenn Robinson, among others.

Walker also crashed the boards and disrupted a few fast breaks, but the C's had yet to find any kind of offensive consistency.  Eric Williams and Vin Baker came back in and promptly went to the hoop on both ends, to try to make things happen.

Walker got called on an out of bounds on the closest thing the C's had to a fast break--I think he was in bounds, though it was close, and my angle wasn't great.  Shortly after, Jason Terry forced Shammond out of bounds, and things did not look at all good for Boston.  The C's had four turnovers in the quarter with over 4:30 to go.

But things brightened a bit when Vin Baker fought (and I do mean fought) his way to the hoop for two.  Then Pierce got called for his fourth foul on a cheap call.  Gah.

Hopes began to rise, as Waltah! came off the bench, even as the C's were now down by six points.  He began to work on Robinson.

Still, Waltah's only human, and the rest of the C's were still not hitting offensively like we all know they can, going 4-21 by this time from the three point line (compared to the Hawks at 6-17).  With 2:43 to go, the Hawks had pushed the lead to twelve.

Vin Baker kept taking punishment inside, but the refs were notorious about not letting the C's take free throws unless someone bled on the foul.

Shammond signaled the end of the offensive troubles as he sank a three to end the third quarter with Atlanta leading 73-63.

By this point of the game, Atlanta was STILL shooting 44%, while the C's were down to only 30%.  The threes were even worse for the Good Guys, at 5-24.  the one bright spot was the rebounds, now at 41-35 Boston's advantage--and pretty much their ONLY advantage up to now.
 

Fourth Quarter:

This was now going to be an even tougher game to win, as the C's had to make up that 10 point deficit and then worry about setting a lead.  Things didn't start well, with Pierce front-rimming a shot clock three.  Then on the next trip, he made a deep two.

Jason Tery knocked down a jumper with two Celtics in his face.  The Hawks were playing offense just well enough to keep a lead against a Celtics team not shooting well.  Waltah! kept pushing the C's on both ends, and sparked even more defensive work, despite Abdur-Rahim hiting a shot clock jumper.  The C's were perceptably making the Hawks work a little harder for their shots, and after a few embarrassments, started tightening the screws.

With 9:07 left, Pierce hit a three that seemed to signal the run was on.  On the C's next possession, Pierce hit another three, giving him 26 points on the night so far. Then Newble committed his fifth foul, leading to a timeout with 8:22 to go, and the Hawks lead now down to ten.

This began the Celtics making their defensive stand.  Waltah! stopped Robinson and that led to another offensive attack by Boston, highlighted by Battie grabbing a rebound, then Walker drawing the entire Hawks team inside before kicking it out to an open Pierce for three.

The crowd awoke demanding defense, and the Celtics responded, led by Waltah! putting the Bad Dog back in his place, and letting the (Celtics) Beagles run.  The C's scrambled on both ends, and every Celtic on the floor fought tooth and nail for every piece of the parquet.

Tony Delk came back in at that point, and contributed to the hard work on the court, despite being scoreless from the field thus far.  The Hawks tried to push the lead back up, but Walker took care of that on the next posession--and the one after that.

The scoring was finally there, now the defense dug in deep, led this time by Walker and Battie.  A timeout with 4:38to go had the score 89-81 favoring Atlanta.

After the timeout, Paul Pierce was at the line, having scored 18 points on 7-19 shooting in the first 3 quarters--and 11 so far in the fourth on 4-6 shooting.  He went one of two at the line, but that was made up by Waltah! on defense, after which Tony Delk came alive with a three from his favorite spot in the corner.

The C's then forced a shot clock violation to regain posession of the ball with the score now 89-85 with 3:45 to go.  The Hawks were still imposing on defense, but the C's were finding their range, and the rebounds were still going Boston's way.  The Boston defense wasn't letting ANYTHING in, while Tony Battie got a deep two, giving him 14 points on the night, and pulling the Celtics to withing 2 points with 2:48 to go.

This was nothing short of amazing, as the Celtics were only shooting 34%, and had NO fast break points--while Atlanta had 17 FB points.  The Celtics defense was doing the job, causing the turnovers or missed shots on evert Atlanta posession.  This was the kind of game the C's play best.  Yet still the C's weren't able to take a lead as time wound down, and the Hawks had three rebounds on one posession, to drive the clock down to 1:09 with a 2 point lead and posession of the ball.

Coming out of the timeout, they missed a three, and the C's took command.  Walker fired it to Battie--once again loitering under the hoop--and Tony drew a foul going up, and wen to the line--MAKING BOTH FREE THROWS!!!!!  YAYYYYY!!!   There were now 42.1 seconds to go and the game was tied at 89.

Following an Atlanta timeout, the Hawks took it in at halfcourt, and got nothing out of it.  The C's had a ahcnce for the last shot to win it all, with 4 seconds on the clock.  Pierce's shot missed, but Battie slammed in the rebound just before time expired--but the idiotic, unutterably, blitheringly incompetent refs called Battie for offensive goaltending.

I have it on tape.  In slow motion.  The shot was good.  Not only that, the refs put 2 tenths of a second back on the clock.

Fortunately, the Hawks decided to take their chances in overtime.

The fourth quarter ended in a tie at 89.  But there's no question in my mind, this game should have been over at this time, as Battie did have a clean shot at the end of regulation.
 

OVERTIME

It took nearly two minutes into the overtime for atlanta to score a field goal--it's first in seven minutes.  Now THAT'S DEFENSE!!  That tied the game again at 92.

Neither team could get a clear lead, no more than one basket ahead at any time throughout the overtime.  The C's kept up the tough defense, to the point where Glenn Robinson had a grand total of 2 points in the fourth quarter and 4 minutes of OT to this point.

Pierce got clearly fouled going to the hoop, but the refs were apparently not working overtime.  Atlanta brought it back up with 43 seconds to go and the game tied at 94.  Abdur-Rahim missed on his jumper and Tony Battie snagged the rebound with his fingernails as he was leaning about 85% out of bounds and stretching his arm nearly out of it's socket.  The ball went to Walker and the C's had 18 seconds to get off a shot.  Delk was fouled "before the shot"--by the expedient of having his shooting ram slammed down and pinned to his side.

The C's took the pumpkin inbounds with 7.6 seconds to go.  Pierce got a drive to the hoop, and was fouled as he shot the ball from the side, but again, no call.  That gave Atlanta one second to try to win the game from halfcourt after a timeout.  The Hawks got it in to Newble, whose shot was partially blocked by Pierce to end the first overtime in a tie at 94.

The C's were pulling off a mathematical miracle, and making Atlanta look bad in the process.  After four quarters and one overtime, the C's were shooting 34%, and the Hawks 41%.  There were 2 factors keeping the Celtics even--the rebounds, now at 53-47; and the three point shot risen from the dead at 11-35 for Boston (statistically an improvement), while the Hawks were 3-19.
 

SECOND OVERTIME

The C's won the opening tap, and Pierce was quickly fouled by Robinson.  Battie laid down an outside jumper off a nice pass.  Battie then rebounded at the other end, and the C's were off to the races.  There was a silly moment when Walker blew an easy layup, but the C's didn't let that put them off.  They continued to push the Hawks hard, but the teams remained tied at 96 with 3:30 to go.

Then Pierce hit another shot, and the C's stopped Robinson as Battie hit another rebound.  Waltah! deserves all of the credit for stopping Robinson.  Pierce drove between two defenders for another two, and the C's led 100-96 with 2:30 to go.

Pierce took down a rebound of an Atlanta miss and the Good Guys hit again on a jumper by Antoine Walker as the Celtics had a 102-96 lead with 2:03 to go.  Following a desperately needed timeout by Atlanta, the Hawks had only 1 field goal in the 2nd OT, while the Celtics were 4-6.

Pierce rebounded another Hawks miss, and Walker called the play upcourt, wich just missed.  The Hawks managed to draw a foul on Waltah!, and went to the line, hitting both, and the C's took posession once more.  Following a miss, the Hawks also missed and Walker came away with the ball.  Tony Delk hid a corner three with 36.6 seconds to go off a nice pass from Walker to give the Celtics a lead of 105-98.

Atlanta took the ball after a timeout and got nothing in the face of a smothering Celtics defense.  Tony Delk took the rebound with 21.5 seconds to go.  A foul was called, and Pierce took it back inbounds, doing some fancy dribbling to end the game in double overtime with a final score of 105-98.
 

This was a game the Celtics won not by outplaying Atlanta, but outworking them.  This was a win with sweat, not skill.  It was a tough, hard, inch-by-inch game every step of the way, and the only time the C's were in offensive command was late in the second overtime.  This was an amazing test of the C's ability to hang in there.  It bespeaks a never-say-die attitude they're going to need as the season wears on, especially with their short rotation.

EVERYONE contributed on defense, and held on until someone--namely Pierce--got the offense moving.  It was amazing to watch.  Now, we get to do this all over again in Atlanta, as the Good Guys head south for part two of the home and home double feature.

HEROES AND ZEROS

Heroes:

Tony Battie:  He IS--Bat-Man.  Have no doubts.  He was ferocious on the boards at both ends.  12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks.  Oh yes--and 18 points.

Antoine Walker:  A triple double, 27 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists--plus 2 blocks.  He ran the offense, and the team got good looks even when the shot wasn't falling.

Paul Pierce:  He ended up with 36 points and 14 rebounds, to go with 4 assists and 4 steals.  I think his shooting slump is nearly over.

Vin Baker:  7 rebounds.  If his shooting had been better, he would have had a great night.

Free throws:  17-22 on a night when the FGP was only 35% makes this a great night at the line for Boston.

The Celtics Defense in the final quarter and both overtimes:  The Hawks were 44% coming into the fourth quarter, and ended the game shooting 39%, including a seven minute stretch where the Hawks got nothing at all.

Zeros:

The Celtics offense in the first three and a half quarters:  They went 38-107.  Imagine what the score would have been if they'd been on target?  There wouldn't have been ONE overtime, never mind two.

And that's the view from the doghouse.
1st Q 2nd  Q 3rd Q 4th Q OT 1 OT 2 Final
Hawks 26 23 24 16 5 4 98
Celtics 24 25 14 26 5 11 105