Hawks even series
By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA ó The Boston Celtics were supposed to be resting up by now, getting ready for the next round of the playoffs.
Instead, theyíre headed back to Beantown all tied up with the lowly Atlanta Hawks, who are starting to believe ó really believe ó they can shock the world.
Joe Johnson scored 35 points, 20 in the fourth quarter, and Josh Smith added 28 points and seven blocks for Atlanta, which surprised the Celtics again 97-92 on Monday night to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
iWe took care of our home court,î Johnson said. iNow weíve got to go up to Boston and somehow steal one.î
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Boston.
No one could have seen that coming.
The Hawks had the worst record
(37-45) of any playoff team, and they certainly played like it in the first two games in Boston, losing them by an average of 21 points. The Celtics, who won an NBA-leading 66 games during the regular season, came South looking to wrap it up.
Now, itís a best-of-three.
iWeíve got to find ourselves real quick,î Bostonís Sam Cassell said. iWeíve got to find our team identity, our team chemistry. Weíve got to find all that real quick.î
The credit for this Atlanta stunner goes largely to Johnson, who took control in the final quarter. After Smithís jumper put the Hawks ahead to stay 81-79, Johnson scored nine straight points to keep the Celtics on the ropes.
The knockout came when Paul Pierce drove to the hoop and left it short, then tumbled over a cameraman alongside the basket. When the Boston star finally climbed back to his feet, he had a look of disbelief ó which pretty much sums up the way the Celtics are feeling about this series.
Smith went to the other end and made two free throws with 26 seconds remaining for 93-87 lead. Johnson ó appropriately enough ó finished off the Celtics by making two more foul shots with 14 seconds left.
iBasketball is a strange thing,î Cassell said. iStrange things happen.î
Johnson, who shot just 36 percent in the first three games, finally stepped up to claim his rightful place as Atlantaís go-to player. With the Celtics trapping on the pick-and-roll, he went to coach Mike Woodson with a suggestion.
iI asked him to space the floor and let me go,î Johnson said. iIt worked.î
Added Cassell, iHeís their franchise ballplayer, and he showed people why.î
After the blowouts in Boston, the Hawks turned feisty on their home court. Rookie Al Horford taunted Pierce after putting the Celtics away in Game 3, prompting the Boston forward to flash a menacing gesture that drew a $25,000 fine from the NBA shortly before Mondayís game.
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