Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks  Saturday, Nov 23, 2002  7:00pm
Less than 24 hours after a double overtime victory over the Hawks in Boston, the Celtics and Hawks travelled to Atlanta to play the second half of the back to back games.

The previous night had been a demonstration of how a team can consistently score a higher shooting percentage throughout a game, and still lose.  Atlanta had showed it could keep up with Boston, and they were looking for some payback.  To complicate things for Boston, Tony Delk would be absent due to a family illness.  This would put Shammond Williams into the starting lineup, and make him prove he could play with the front line.

The previous game had been especially tough on Boston.  They have a short rotation to begin with, and playing double OT after spending the entire game playing catch up had surely taken a toll on them.  A lot was going to depend on how well the C's could run.  Also, the scoring just HAD to be better, or it would be a long night for the Good Guys.  Finally, the C's had to bring their defense early and often.
 

First Quarter:

The game began looking very familiar--it was a mirror image of the previous game, except here, it was the Celtics opening up an early lead and the Hawks spending the quarter playing catch up.  The play started out VERY ragged, but the C's were taking it to the hoop early on, while Atlanta relied on their outside shooting, which got them zip to start with.

The first few minutes literally set the tone for the night--while the C's couldn't quite pull away and make it easy on themselves, neither could the Hawks keep their game going long enough to take command.  Atlanta didn't get it's first points until three minutes and 38 seconds into the game.  By then, Boston had scored four points--which was four more than the Hawks had managed to that time.

The C's played solid defense, and Atlanta would accommodate them by committing turnovers all night long.  By marked contrast, the C's took remarkably good care of the ball in the first quarter, and while their shooting percentage wasn't great, it was a definite improvement on the previous game.  They also appeared determined to continue their hard work on rebounding, which was a good idea since their shooting wasn't so hot.

Shammond showed good movement without the ball and also kept his shooting touch early on.  Tony Battie was again leading the way on the boards by example.  Antoine Walker seemed to have his shot going early--as much as anyone on the C's did to that point.  The scoring started to improve as the quarter progressed, and with 5:19 to go, a timeout was called with the score 14-10 favoring the Good Guys.

Following the timeout, J.R. Bremer, Waltah! and Vin Baker came in, and we got our first good look at Bremer in meaningful minutes.  He dived to the floor to get the ball, and Baker ended up scoring on the play.  Ratliff unfortunately took Vin for a ride down the lane for a dunk on the next play.

As the quarter wound down, Pierce hit a nice three, so his shot seems to be slowly making it's comeback.  The first ended as the Celtics maintained a 26-23 lead on a corner three from Waltah! to end the scoring.

The first period was reasonably productive for the C's as they outshot the Hawks 9-22, compared to 9-17 for Atlanta.  They also went 3-10 on the three, and the Hawks 3-5.  The C's did have 6 paint points to Atlanta's 2, and that was likely to improve as the game went on if the Hawks insisted on shooting from 18-20 feet all night.
 

Second Quarter:

The C's started the quarter with good defense on the Hawks and making them work from outside.   Yet the Boston offense lacked finesse--there were a few soft shots that just bounced out.

The second quarter progressed much as the first--the C's opened up a lead, only to have the Hawks slowly close the gap.  Eric Williams was getting involved early and often, in concert with Shammond Williams.  If Tony isn't careful, Shammond might start competing for the starting job.  :>)

With just under half the quarter gone, the C's had a 10 point lead by virtue of having a 16-8 edge in paint points by this time, and Eric Williams having a dozen points already.  But the C's had the first of several minor problems--namely, silly fouls.  The dumb, reach-in kind.  They would end up sending the Hawks to the line far too often.  It allowed Atlanta to keep coming back.  Fortunately, the Hawks played like they had no idea what to do with the ball on offense and kept turning it over to a grateful Celtic team.

Another problem was that while Atlanta didn't shoot the three often, they tended to have a higher percentage on them.  I wished that the C's had defended the three more often early on.

There was, sad to say, and even bigger--and much more embarrassing--problem.  Walker stole the ball with just over 4:30 to go, and zipped downcourt with a 2-1 break.  He then blew the layup, and Waltah! was just a step behind and couldn't snag the rebound under the basket, having to chase the ball out to the arc to get it, and set up a play.  Shammond got it into Battie for the hoop, but this should have been a "gimme" layup, not an involved play.  It became obvious that the C's hadn't run a fast break in so long, they'd forgotten how!!

In the meantime, Jason Terry kept the Hawks in with his shooting, and the C's never really had a chance to rest on their lead, much as they needed to.  Shammond showed that when he just catches and shoots, he hits much better than when he takes time to line up a shot.  That's a rare talent these days, especially when you can do it shooting threes.

The second quarter ended as Ira Newble hit a buzzer beating three to leave the score with Boston leading, 57-51.
 

HALFTIME

Cookie Break!!

The First half, was so far playing like a reverse of the previous game--which didn't bode well for the Celtics or my nerves.  The C's were shooting a little better, 22-45, while the Hawks were now 18-33.  Surprisingly, the C's shot 5-16 on threes, and Atlanta was 8-11.

Boston was almost even on free throws, 8-11, while the Hawks hit all 11 of theirs.  The Hawks also held a slim rebounding lead, 20-18.  But the turnovers were killing Atlanta, 12-3 over Boston.  The Good Guys were monsters inside, with a 26-8 lead on paint points.

I felt that if the C's could just suck it up and play a little sharper, they could put this game away early and rest the starters.  On the other paw, if Atlanta was the first team to get with it, then it woulc be a disaster for Boston.  So far, the Hawks had essentially played the Celtics evenly, save only for that opening minutes, and that was the basic scoring differential right there.  That meant the C's couldn't afford an offensive lapse, or they might be doomed.  Eek!
 

Cookie Break!!
 

Third Quarter:

The C's continued to pick up a couple of silly fouls as the quarter opened, including a "T" on Battie for complaining about a foul on Eric Williams.  That gave the Hawks the means to close the gap to one point.

But the next play showed some smarts, as Pierce found he had no chance at the basket and wisely passed it outside.  The pumpkin ended up in Shammond's hands for another in a series of catch and shoots. Overall, the C's were getting everyone involved at both ends, spreading the work out more.  That was good as Pierce was showing some slight signs of weariness.

Ira Newble continued to be an offensive pain in the butt, and the C's had yet to really take him seriously.  The C's were running plays off Antoine's calls for the most part and they seemed to be working.  Still, the C's defense never really clamped down in the third like they needed it to.  Robinson kept sneaking in to the hoop just often enough to keep things close.  As the quarter was nearly done, the C's were shooting 43%, but the Hawks were at 51%--far too high to be good news for Boston.  The things that kept Boston ahead were that they were taking a lot more shots, and Atlanta kept turning the ball over.

Yet Boston also had some turnover trouble in the third, and it showed in the ragged play.  The C's should have been able to put this game away early, and yet the Hawks mounted a 7-0 run to close it to a one point game again.  The C's pushed it up again, yet the Hawks made another mini-run to close out the quarter down by only three points, 77-74.
 

Fourth Quarter:

The period opened as the Hawks committed a series of silly fouls of their own to put them over the limit just a couple of minutes into the session.  This seemed to make it a given that the C's would keep going into the hoop as they had all night, but nnnnoooooooo.

They insisted on hoisting up outside jumpers.  Aaugh.  I wouldn't have minded so much if the inside weren't readily available on a number of those plays.  In the meantime, the Hawks were trying to close the gap once more.

There followed one of the wildest sequence of plays I've seen in ages.  With 9:30 to go, Pierce slapped the ball away from the Hawks, diving on the floor to do so, and they scrambled for the ball.  Then Shammond Williams and another Hawks player went after it, though the opposition won that race.  They hoisted up a wild shot that Battie managed to slap away toward the sideline, where Eric Williams saved it inbounds to Pierce, who took it up the court.  Pierce drew the defense under the hoop and dropped it off the Shammond, who sent it to Walker in the corner for an open three that barely missed and went out of bounds off Atlanta.  It was great, wild defense.  Unfortunately, off the inbounds, Atlanta stole the ball and made off to the other end, only to have their offensive efforts stymied by Tony Battie.

Whew!

Just a minute latter, Eric Williams landed flkat on his back getting the loose ball and sending it off upcourt.  That was the kind of defense we needed more of early on, and it was finally making it's presence felt. A timeout was taken with 7:45 to go and the Good Guys holding a 13 point lead, 91-78.

At his point, all the C's had to do was play smart.  Solid defense and coherent offense would do the trick.  But the C's did something really, really dumb.  Walker and Shammond had a 3-1 break going, but Walker, instead of A: slamming it home; or B: passing off to Shammond after drawing the lone defender; went with C:--to bounce the ball off the backboard for Tony Battie, who was trailing the play, to make a last second attempt to slam.  Needless to say, this was totally unsuccessful.  It was obvious that they were going for the cute shot instead of the sure points, and they ended up with nothing offensively, and had made it clear they intended not just to BEAT Atlanta, but to EMBARRASS them by showy play.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.  They ended up looking like jackasses, and the Hawks ended up getting the ball and getting fouled as they went to the hoop on the other end.  They promptly sank both free throws, to emphasize just how dumb a move that was.

Even Tom Heinsohn, who frequently speaks of "putting the dagger" into opposing teams to solidify a win, was anguished by this display of idiocy.

Following this folly, the C's settled in and proceeded to hold off the Hawks for the remaining minutes of the game, ensuring that while the Hawks kept trying the game was at last safely out of reach by the time there was a minute left.

The main exciting thing at that point was that after nearly losing his contacts while getting fouled, he fouled out himself soon afterward.  Fortunately, the C's were able to hold their lead without Battie, thanks to no more stupid plays.  Pierce led the way into the hoop, getting fouled on the way, and then hitting his free throws.

With less than a minute to go, the C's were finally comfy with their lead, and the game mercifully drew to a close with a final score of 109-99.
 

This game was both better and worse than the previous game.  It was better in that the C's scoring was generally better than the previous night, negating the need for 2 overtimes. Also, it was the second night in a row that they held a team averaging over 100ppg to less than 100 points, while scoring over 100 in both games themselves.

It was worse in that whether it was fatigue, or simple carelessness, they made some silly fouls and blew several fast breaks, plus that one monumental gaffe.

The C's defense finally came to play in the fourth again, holding Atlanta away from the hoop for the last half of the quarter.  Yet, had they done that sooner, the game would have been over that much faster.  They did end up holding the Hawks to 39% shooting, while the C's enjoyed a 43% evening.  However, the Hawks did outdo the C's from the arc, going 11-20, while the Celtics had 8-28.

Turnovers helped do in the Hawks, 25-12 over Boston.

Yet Atlanta outrebounded Boston, 44-41, though the C's did better on the offensive boards, 14-10.  The Hawks also did better at the ffree throw line.  All in all, in some ways, one could look at a portion of the stats and easily assume the Hawks won.  It should be a wake up call for Boston--though I suppose it would be a kindness to let them sleep in on Sunday, before going back to work.

How close was it?  Look at the scoring by quarters below.  The teams were dead even in the middle two quarters.  If not for the Celtics' lead in the opening of the first quarter and their defensive stand at the end of the fourth, the Hawks might well have won this game.

HEROES AND ZEROS:

Heroes:

Shammond Williams:  He started in place of Delk and provided 19 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 steals.  Great work there!

Eric Williams:  He was in there with 18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.

Walker and Pierce: on 9 assists, 17 rebounds and 6 steals.  Incidentally, they both took and made the exact same percentage of shots.  The difference was Pierce went to the line more than Walker did.

Zeros:

Walker and Pierce: The Loose Hands award each had 4 turnovers; and Walker gets whacked with a stuffed bunny for that bonehead move in the fourth.

And that's the view from the doghouse.
1st Q 2nd Q 3rd Q 4th Q Final
Celtics 26 31 20 32 109
Hawks 23 31 20 25 99