HAWKS 93, CELTICS 88
Too much give
Celtics let the Hawks pull off major upset
ATLANTA -- Before what may well have been one of the most depressing evenings of the season -- trumped possibly only by the big, blown home lead to Phoenix -- Jim O'Brien utterly discounted the possibility that last night's game against the last-place Hawks was in any way, shape, or form a trap game.
"I don't think for our team that there should be anything like that," the Celtics coach said. "We know anyone can beat us. [The Hawks] can go on a run, and we don't want it to start with us."
Well, O'Brien proved prophetic. He watched his team collapse in the second half and become the first team this season to lose to Atlanta when leading the Hawks after three quarters. (Atlanta had been 0-17 in such circumstances.) The result was a 93-88 setback best remembered (or, perhaps forgotten) for some truly mind-boggling shooting by Paul Pierce (4 for 16) and Vin Baker (2 for 11) and some passive work on the glass (a 48-32 advantage for the hosts.) Even against the dregs of the NBA, which the Hawks were entering the game, that won't get it done.
The Celtics were in command of this one in the first half, building a lead to 14 and settling for a cushion of a dozen at the half. But the Hawks, who had not won a game all season in which they trailed after any quarter, cut the deficit to a point after three and then rode Shareef Abdur-Rahim (25 points) down the stretch. The win snapped a seven-game Atlanta losing streak as well as a five-gamer to the Celtics.
The second half told the story. The Celtics scored a measly 38 points and shot 32.5 percent while the Hawks scored 55 points and shot 54.1 percent. It was a total breakdown. Late-game defense was one of the many concerns the coaches had with the departures of Eric Williams and Tony Battie, two mainstays in such situations. That surfaced here.
"We got outworked by the Hawks in the second half. They came out ready to play. We came out flat," O'Brien said.
Pierce, who had been a tad ill, looked wildly out of sorts all night, although he said afterwards he felt fine. But he sure didn't look fine. "You noticed, huh?," he said. "I've had better games." He missed 4 of 5 shots in the fourth quarter.
O'Brien said he thought his team played "tired and fatigued" and that Pierce, Jiri Welsch (10 points), and Mike James (13 points) are all "banged up." Pierce said he simply didn't have it, not that that was any significant revelation. The announced crowd of 8,919 could see that.
"I really didn't have a good rhythm," said Pierce, who also had six turnovers to go along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 41 minutes. "One of those days, I guess. Everything is not always going to go your way all the time. I'll try to forget this one. I'll have way more better games than this one."
That is a lock. Baker, on the other hand, looked almost calcified at times. In 30 minutes, he had only one rebound. He finished with 6 points and was victimized late by Abdur-Rahim.
"I tried to give him different looks, but he's a tough player," Baker said of Abdur-Rahim, who had 12 in the fourth, including the final 10 Atlanta points in the last 2:21. As for his shooting, Baker said, simply, "It's been a while since I shot this bad."
The game was tied five times in the fourth, the last at 85-85 with 1:53 to play following Baker's second hoop of the night. The basket had come after Walter McCarty made a spectacular defensive play, blocking Jason Terry on a three-on-one. Baker was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw.
Then Abdur-Rahim (8 for 15) went to work. He drifted through the lane and hit a short runner. He then was fouled and made two free throws to make it 89-85 with 34 seconds left. In between, Welsch missed a trey (the Celtics hoisted 27 treys, 11 of them in the fourth) and Pierce missed from the perimeter. Then, the Celtics had a three-shot possession with Pierce, James (a wide-open trey), and Ricky Davis all missing. Abdur-Rahim was fouled again and made them both to seal things with 20.1 seconds to play.
"You have a team like the Hawks, down by 12 with no confidence, you have to put them away," Pierce said. "And we didn't do that."
No, they didn't. They instead were in the spirit of giving, which, however seasonally correct that might be, left them all feeling like they gave away too much.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.