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Celtics 79, Hawks 76

Celtics slam back

A Hawk dunk gets Allen, mates going

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / March 20, 2012
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ATLANTA - For more than two quarters Monday night, the Celtics played without passion. They screamed at officials, missed open shots, and watched as Rajon Rondo threw passes at his teammates’ shins. It was ghastly for Celtics fans who filled Philips Arena, sporting green.

Midway through the third, Atlanta’s 6-foot guard, Jeff Teague, dunked on Ray Allen and then screamed at the Celtics veteran. The basket put the Hawks up by 8, and they were threatening to pull away.

But the disrespect appeared to motivate the Celtics, who began playing defense, and more importantly began hitting shots. The resulting barrage of 3-pointers was part of a pivotal fourth-quarter run that led to a 79-76 win.

Allen scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half, including two 3-pointers during a 13-0 run that put the Celtics ahead, 73-58.

As usual, Boston lost focus with a big lead and the Hawks cut it to 1 behind sparkling 3-point shooting from Joe Johnson. But perhaps in a case of poetic justice, Allen sank two free throws with 10.9 seconds left for a 3-point lead and Teague followed by airballing a 3-pointer.

“Yeah, it [ticked] me off,’’ Allen said about Teague’s taunting. “Because even if I was watching the game I would have been mad because you’re trying to show the guy [up] you dunked on. Yeah he dunked on me. I’ve been dunked on before. But it cost them a free throw [on a technical on Teague].’’

That free throw was the first point of a 36-13 run that put the Celtics ahead for good. In an emotional game that featured a flagrant foul by Brandon Bass on Zaza Pachulia, Teague, an athletic guard with jumping ability, took a Pachulia pass, went coast-to-coast, and rose on Allen under the basket. He then stood and screamed in Allen’s direction, drawing the T.

“Yeah, there was a sense of anger,’’ Allen said, “a sense of, ‘We’re going back at you guys,’ because that was uncalled for.’’

When asked if the late Teague airball was payback, Allen said, “Yeah, the basketball gods are out there, and they watch.’’

Kevin Garnett, who delivered 16 points and 8 rebounds in 37 minutes, was asked if Teague’s dunk angered the team. “I don’t even know who you are talking about. That guy’s a nobody,’’ he said.

After Teague missed the trey, scores of Boston fans taunted him, and the Celtics ran out the final four seconds to snap a two-game losing streak and even their record at 3-3 on this season-long eight-game road trip.

After demoralizing losses to Sacramento and Denver and a putrid first half on offense Monday night, the Celtics desperately needed rejuvenation. As they began that pivotal run, the hordes of Celtics fans behind the bench began cheering vigorously after every basket. Paul Pierce, saddled with foul trouble, used his time on the bench to play cheerleader, using his towel to egg on the green-clad supporters.

Pierce came back into the game and sank a free throw for a 77-73 lead with 21.4 seconds left. Johnson, who canned four 3-pointers and scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, followed with his final 3, and Allen closed out the game with those free throws.

“It was a grind, but it was a great win for us,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “It was a lot of good stretches but I thought we didn’t close the game out. They saw matchup advantages and instead of attacking it, they wanted to milk the clock. And you don’t milk the clock in an NBA game, unless it’s under 40 seconds.’’

Early on, as the Celtics contined to miss shots, frustration set in and they grew angrier at the officials, who made some questionable calls.

Despite their disenchantment, they began to play some strong defense, especially during a 6-0 run that reduced the deficit to 47-45 late in the third.

Atlanta followed with two baskets, including an open jumper from Tracy McGrady after he received a desperation pass from Josh Smith, who was flying out of bounds at the time.

But the Celtics stormed back with the final 5 points of the quarter, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Allen.

On the inbounds play with 1.2 seconds left, inbounder Rondo duped the Hawks by screaming at Garnett to go for the alley-oop. Rondo then flipped it to an open Allen, who canned the shot to reduce the deficit to 51-50.

Mickael Pietrus opened the fourth quarter with a one-handed dunk on Pachulia, Pierce drained two baskets, and the Celtics did not trail again. They sliced the Hawks’ lead for the sixth seed in the East to 1 1/2 games.

“This was a big win,’’ said Pierce, who finished with 13 points in 27 minutes. “Every game is large from this point on. It’s the stretch run, 20 games left, every game is going to put us up probably one spot in the standings or knock us down one spot.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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