The Hawks are generally not considered one of Boston’s more traditional rivals, but the history between the two franchises in the postseason dates back all the way to 1957. The Celtics have faced off with the Hawks 11 times in the postseason over those 60 years and have come out on the winning end in ten of those matchups.
With nine of those matchups going six games or longer, there have been plenty of memorable episodes created by both teams in hard fought playoff showdowns over the years. Let’s take a look back at some of the best plays and performances from those games.
Paul Pierce Tebows (Game 2 of 2012 First Round)
The Celtics began the 2012 postseason under some trying circumstances. Ray Allen was sidelined with a sore ankle, and Rajon Rondo was suspended for Game 2 after bumping an official in the closing moments of Game 1. With the Celtics also dropping Game 1, things looked dire for Boston in the first round of the 4/5 matchup with Atlanta.
Paul Pierce helped a shorthanded Boston squad dig out of a 1-0 hole with a vintage performance in Game 2. Pierce posted a game-high 36 points and 14 rebounds while rallying the visitors from a 11-point second half deficit to a crucial 87-80 win. The highlight of the performance? Pierce playing tribute to the former Denver Broncos quarterback after a couple made free throws at the end of the win.
Kevin Garnett doesn’t like to be called out (Game 6 of 2012 First Round)
After being called old and the dirtiest guy in the league by Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr., Kevin Garnett responded on with authority on the court and with his words. First, he turned back the clock with 28 points and 14 rebounds in the 83-80 series-clinching win over the Hawks in Game 6 of the first round matchup. After the game, Garnett also wasted no time in responding to the shot by Gearon at the start of his postgame press conference.
“First off, I want to say thank you to the (Hawks) owner for giving me some extra gas tonight,” Garnett said. “My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth, actually know what he’s talking about — X’s and O’s versus checkbooks and bottom lines.”
Kevin Garnett gets his revenge on Zaza (Game 7 of 2008 First Round)
All of the pressure was on the Celtics and the new Big Three heading into Game 7 of the 2008 first round series against Atlanta. Boston’s veteran roster answered the bell with what one of the biggest beatdowns in playoff franchise history, destroying the Hawks by a 99-65 margin in the deciding game. The blowout victory also gave Garnett a chance to seek some retribution against Hawks big man Zaza Pachulia for a questionable cheap shot earlier in the series. He laid him out with a screen with two minutes remaining in the third quarter before watching the rest of the game from the bench.
The Duel (Game 7 of 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals)
Larry Bird struggled for the better part of three quarters against Dominique Wilkins and his upstart Hawks in Game 7 of the second round showdown at the Boston Garden. Wilkins was on his way to a 47-point night and his teammate Kevin Willis told the forward that Bird couldn’t handle the ‘Human Highlight Film.’ Bird caught wind of those comments however and responded with one the best fourth quarters in postseason history. He scored 20 of his 34 points in the frame on 9-of-10 shooting from the field, propelling Boston to a 118-116 comeback win for the series.
The Celtics dynasty begins (Game 7 of 1957 NBA Finals)
The Hawks franchise was stationed back in St. Louis prior to the 1970s and served as Boston’s chief Western Conference rival as Red Auerbach constructed a dynasty in Boston that would last several decades. It all began in the 1957 NBA Finals though, when rookies Bill Russell and Tommy Heinsohn bested Bob Pettit and the Hawks in a double-overtime thriller (125-123) that gave Boston its first championship. Heinsohn posted 37 points and 23 rebounds in the clincher and was mobbed on the Garden floor once Pettit’s potential game-tying shot rimmed out at the buzzer.