Celtics Ground Hawks in Game 1

By Stephen Alford
Updated: April 21, 2008

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics took a commanding 1-0 lead over the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks as the Cs cruised to a 104-81 victory over the young birds. The only time the Hawks were able to establish a lead in the game was when forward Marvin Williams hit the game’s first basket.

The front end of Celtics captain Paul Pierce’s back-to-back three pointers then broke a two-all tie, and sparked a 22-8 Boston run, which included another shot from beyond the arc by The Truth and six points in 97 seconds by Rajon Rondo.

Playing in the first playoff game of his career, Rondo, who finished the game with 15 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and not one turnover, seemed to frustrate veteran point guard Mike Bibby early, as Bibby (five points, two-for-10 from the field) picked up a technical foul at the end of Rondo’s run. Ray Allen converted the technical foul and put Boston up 24-10 with 4:46 left in the quarter.

Atlanta forward Josh Smith met Leon Powe at the rim and thwarted the Powe Man’s attempt at a dunk before taking it coast-to-coast for a lay-up (24-12), sparking an 11-5 Atlanta run. Rondo tried to stop Atlanta’s momentum when he drew a foul on center Al Horford, and hit an incredible jumper from behind the backboard.

However, the basket was not allowed, much to the disagreement of sellout crowd of 18,624 witnesses. Rondo hit both free throws, and gave Boston an eight point cushion at the end of the first quarter (29-21). Both Rondo and Pierce scored nine points in the opening quarter. Rondo also added five assists.

With Pierce (16 points, three-for-five from beyond the arc) as the only starter on the floor at the start of the second quarter, the Hawks were able to pull within two points before Celtics coach Glen Doc Rivers inserted Kevin Garnett back into the game.

The Big Ticket (16 points, 10 rebounds) immediately responded with a 14-foot, turnaround jumper from the left side to put Boston back up by four (31-27) with 9:45 remaining in the first half.

“Throw it to the post,” is what Doc Rivers said he designed to stop the Hawks run. “Offensively, I thought we got jump shot crazy. We got the lead making threes early, but that’s fool’s gold, and I thought we fell for it. We started looking for shots, looking for jump shots, taking quick shots instead of doing what we do.”

After Ray Allen was able to give Boston an eight point lead with 7:45 left, Horford (game-high 20 points, 10 rebounds) whittled Atlanta’s deficit back to four with 6:52 on the clock on a pair of hard fought baskets in the trenches. Sam Cassell (10 points) then scored the game’s next seven points, and Boston ended the half with a 49-40 lead.

Atlanta had to fight for every basket in the paint, but managed to outscore Boston20-12 in the trenches in the first half, led by Horford’s 11 first half points.

However, there was too much sugar for the Hawks to handle in the third frame. Sugar Ray Allen that is.At one point in the third quarter Allen, who finished the game with a team-high 18 points, showed that “He Got Game” by scoring 10 consecutive Boston points, capped off by an easy stroll in the lane to make the score 67-48, giving the Celtics its largest lead of the game at the time.

“They switched Bibby on Ray, and I thought if you could run the pick-and-rolls, Ray comes off (of the pick-and-roll) with his size, he can get the shot off,” said coach Rivers.

“If you give Ray a look, chances are he’s going to make it. We had the “feed the pig” mentality. If it works, run it again and run it again. And we did.” Rondo then closed the third frame with six consecutive Boston points of his own as the Green closed the quarter with an 18-point margin (73-55).

Boston put an exclamation point on the victory when Pierce fed Leon Powe in the paint, and the Powe Man (10 points, four rebounds, two blocks in 23 minutes) rose over Josh Smith and Mike Bibby, and slammed home his points with 6:13 left in the game.

“I was going too fast early (in the game), and then going up, my shot got blocked a couple of times. And I didn’t like that.” admitted Powe after the game. “So I said, ‘The next time I have to settle down.’ I said, ‘The next time if I get it I’m just going to try to dunk it.’ So I dunked it with some force because I don’t like getting my shot blocked.”

Powe drew the and-1 on Smith, much to the delight of Celtics Nation – and especially KG, who stood over Powe and threw blows to his chest as Powe laid on his back basking in the glory.

” Leon is like a grown ass man, yo,” said the Big Ticket after the game. “So, the little hits that I was hitting him with, he didn’t even feel that. That was like high-fives to him. They just so happened to be on his chest.”

The Celts will face the Hawks again at the TD BankNorth Garden on Wednesday for Game 2 of the seven game series. Look for Hawks coach Mike Woodson to make adjustments…but produce the same results.