Rapid Reaction: Celtics 89, Hawks 81

Kevin Garnett and the Celtics kicked it into high gear against Zaza Pachulia and the Hawks. Kevin Liles/USA TODAY Sports

Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 89-81 on Saturday night at Philips Arena:


Rajon Rondo produced the 25th triple-double of his career (14 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), while Paul Pierce scored a team-high 26 points and spearheaded a monster third-quarter turnaround as Boston rallied from a 19-point first-half deficit. Jared Sullinger added eight points and nine rebounds off the bench, and Kevin Garnett finished with 14 points and five rebounds. Lou Williams scored a game-high 28 points after a monster first half for the Hawks but, like his teammates, went quiet in the second half as Atlanta shot a mere 41.2 percent overall and mustered only 50 points over the final three quarters. Josh Smith added 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Jeff Teague chipped in 17 points for the Hawks.


Down 15 coming out of halftime and threatening to wipe away all the good that took place Friday night against the Pacers, the Celtics did what they haven't done all season: They mounted a furious, sustained comeback that swung the momentum of the game. The Celtics ratcheted up their defense, limiting the Hawks to 2-of-14 shooting (14.3 percent) in the third quarter while forcing seven turnovers (that led to 10 points). On the offensive side, it was all Pierce. The captain went into takeover mode, connecting on 6-of-9 shots with 17 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal while playing the whole frame. Sullinger completed an alley-oop feed from Rondo to give Boston a 61-60 lead with 3:47 to go in the frame, and Boston kept its foot on the gas. An 8-0 burst to close the frame put the Celtics out front 71-62.


Brandon Bass was up and down in his return to the starting lineup Friday, committing some careless turnovers. He was far more good than bad Saturday, even if he still missed a couple of defensive rotations. Bass had maybe the defensive play of the night when he stepped up on a driving Smith and delivered an emphatic second-quarter swat. Bass scored 10 points on efficient 5-of-6 shooting with four rebounds, three steals and two assists over 35:41. Maybe the most noteworthy number on his stat line: Bass was a team-best plus-14 in plus/minus.


Doc Rivers called Friday's victory a "substance win," and that description probably doesn't do Saturday's win justice. When faced with double-digit deficits this season, the Celtics have rarely been able to even make things competitive again, often getting stuck trying to get over the hump near the end of a comeback attempt. Despite a dreadful first half, Boston got back to basics and turned the game around behind its defense in the third frame. The Celtics have won back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 8-12. They will get a day to rest before visiting the Big Apple on Monday with a chance to match their season-high of a three-game winning streak when they tangle with the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks.