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Peter May | On basketball

Familiar tools used in this pounding

Even with a large lead late in the fourth, Kevin Garnett's intensity didn't waver; Leon Powe, who had just been fouled on a dunk, can attest to that. Even with a large lead late in the fourth, Kevin Garnett's intensity didn't waver; Leon Powe, who had just been fouled on a dunk, can attest to that. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter May
April 21, 2008

There still was 5:53 left in last night's game when Leon Powe took a pass from Paul Pierce and slammed home a dunk that (a) brought the fans to their feet and (b) sent Powe crashing to the floor, setting up a 3-point play.

As he lay on the floor, Powe looked up to find the chattering presence of Kevin Garnett in his face. And I mean in his face. Not only that, Garnett was pummeling his teammate with a series of quick hits to the chest. Bam. Bam. Bam. "There were two, three, four, maybe five or six, Roy Jones-type punches," Powe said. "He was excited."

What about it, KG?

"Leon's a grown-ass man," Garnett said. "Those were like high-fives to him. They just happened to be on the chest. I don't think he felt them at all."

Said Powe, "I felt them."

Sam Cassell and Garnett then helped raise Powe to his feet and the Hawks, soon to be down by 23, called time. And as Pierce walked back to the Boston bench, he had that look on his face. He moved his head up and down as if to say, "Yup, this is how it should be." It was over.

And, two minutes later, the man most identifiable with Boston's many big home victories this season appeared on the Jumbotron. Gino. Soon, the final horn sounded, the Celtics had won, 104-81, and, well, aside from the four members of the Red Sox sitting courtside, the Sox owner sitting a few seats away, the presence of the TNT broadcast crew, and the ubiquitous NBA Entertainment, it all seemed like one of the many routine Boston wins this season.

Maybe the Sixers' surprising win over Detroit served as a last-second cautionary tale for the Celtics. You know how it goes - it's the playoffs, it's 0-0, nothing that happened before matters, and everyone has a chance. Then the Celtics went out and did what got them to 66 wins and made Atlanta look every bit like a 37-win team that moonwalked into the postseason.

They allowed the Hawks to think big thoughts in the first half - and then absolutely buried them in a second-half avalanche of opportunistic scoring and stifling defense. When it was over, the Hawks had shot 38.2 percent - 35 percent in the second half - and had scored only 81 points. Atlanta got 5 points and 1 assist from supposed savior Mike Bibby, who was thoroughly outplayed by Rajon Rondo.

In short, this one didn't look a whole lot different from any of the three previous meetings between these teams, or different from any number of the Celtics' easy wins this season. They had some terrific moments on offense (Ray Allen, Pierce, Rondo, and Cassell all had scoring bursts) but they put this one away with some tenacious defense, mainly in the second half.

This is how they did it all year. This is how they did it last night. Yes, there were things they'd like to clean up (offensive rebounding one of them) but, aside from the amped-up ambience, it was pretty much how the Celtics rolled through the league this season. You limit teams to 81 points on 38 percent shooting and, most of the time, not only are you going to win, you're going to win going away.

Garnett said he was ultra pumped for this one. Who knew there was such a speed on the guy who breaks a sweat in the warm-up line? But he said he had to take it easy when he ran out of the tunnel and onto the floor, such was his excited state. "You guys with expensive cars, it'd be like putting your head out the window when you're doing 140," he said.

Yeah, we can all relate to that.

For KG, it had been a long, four-year wait for the postseason. Energy is never a problem for this guy; controlling the energy sometimes can be problematic. Two early fouls sent him to the bench, but when Atlanta cut a 14-point deficit to 29-27 in the second quarter, Garnett got the call to return. He quickly hit a baseline turnaround to start a 6-0 run.

"I wanted the effort to be there," he said. "I wanted them to feed off me. And when I came back in, I was still able to play aggressive, but also a little bit smarter." He only had one more foul the rest of the way.

He finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists in 34 minutes and he left the game with 3:26 to play amid a chorus of "MVP, MVP" chants. We'd seen this before in March and April and we'll probably see it again, maybe even Wednesday night when these teams play Game 2 of their playoff series.

A 23-point win at home over a sub-.500 team, a win that was grounded in defense, well, we've seen that before, too. Now, Garnett battering a fallen teammate, well, that was new and different. But, as they say, the more things change . . .

Peter May can be reached at pmay@globe.com.

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