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Celtics 88, Hawks 86 (OT)

Celtics eke out OT win

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / April 12, 2012
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The Celtics took winning ugly to another level Wednesday night. That was coach Doc Rivers’s assessment of an 88-86 overtime victory over the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden.

“I’ve got to tell you guys, that was the worst game we’ve ever won,’’ Rivers said. “I mean, we didn’t play well. We just kept hanging in there. You could see the fatigue.’’

The Celtics had been making things easy on themselves with strong defense and efficient offensive production in recent games. They struggled mightily in this contest, though, playing less than 24 hours after an impressive victory in Miami (115-107).

But the Celtics did display resiliency and persistence - led by Rajon Rondo’s 47-minute stint and Mickael Pietrus’s 28-plus minute return from a March 23 concussion - plus what Kevin Garnett called a “fierce’’ approach to rebounding as they beat the Hawks on the boards, 56-39.

Rondo showed the way in nearly every category as he recorded a 10-point, 10-rebound, 20-assist triple double, his sixth of the season and 13th of his career. Rondo, who went 3 for 16 from the field and committed six turnovers, extended his double-figure assist streak to 19 games.

And Pietrus compensated for the absence of Ray Allen (ankle), contributing key fourth-quarter perimeter shooting and tag-team defending against Joe Johnson.

Yet the Celtics still had to survive a final Hawk possession in regulation, then a bizarre overtime in which both Garnett and Greg Stiemsma fouled out and the team concluded the contest with a Brandon Bass-Paul Pierce-Pietrus frontcourt.

“It just says we have great character, tough-minded group,’’ Rivers said. “They really are. You could see they wanted to win that game so bad, and you could see the way we played. Going into it, what I told the coaches is, we’ve got to just keep it close. If we can hang around and then the fourth quarter - that’s how I felt going into the game.’’

Rondo got the Celtics’ offense in gear in OT, finding Bass (21 points) for a jumper 12 seconds in. Pierce then stepped into a jumper off a Garnett screen for an 88-84 edge with 3:26 remaining. That would be the final Celtic points of the night, but they would be enough.

Garnett committed his sixth foul with a moving screen on Jeff Teague, negating a Rondo runner. Kirk Hinrich pulled the Hawks within 88-86 with 2:24 to go. There would be no more scoring. But there would be a scare as Bass was floored and received medical attention under the Atlanta basket before returning.

And then there were the final 40 seconds.

The Hawks went to Josh Smith (20 points, 11 rebounds) in a mismatch against Pierce. But Pierce made a steal and, as he attempted to wind down the clock, was called for an offensive foul with 10.1 seconds on the clock. But Smith front-rimmed a 3-point attempt and the Celtics had their 19th win in 26 games since the All-Star break.

“Shows that we’re getting better, shows we’re starting to apply the things we’ve learned,’’ Garnett said. “We’re carrying over the things that we’ve talked about. We’ve been trying to get better at [rebounding]. In order for us to win, we’ve got to rebound, not just the bigs, but as a whole, and I thought for the most part we’ve been focused on that.

“It took a group effort. Everybody was pretty fierce on the boards and it was a conscious effort.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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