By John Hollinger
ATLANTA -- As far as hits go, this one was a big miss.
Prior to Friday's Hawks-Celtics game, Boston center Kendrick Perkins said his team “put a hit out” on Hawks guard Jamal Crawford, who had burned the Celtics for 18, 18, and 17 points off the bench in winning the teams’ first three meetings.
Instead it was Crawford who did all the hitting -- in the paint, off the backboard, beyond the 3-point line, and even from halfcourt. He scored 18 of his 28 points in the first half to turn a nine-point deficit into a 12-point halftime lead, and the Hawks coasted the rest of the way to a 100-91 win -- one that was unusually chippy for a regular season game but par for the course for a Hawks-Celtics tilt.
“I heard something about it before the game,” said Crawford of Perkins’ comments. “We got fired up.”
After the Hawks scored only seven points in the first nine minutes, Crawford came off the bench and immediately turned the tide. His halfcourt shot to end the first quarter gave Atlanta its first lead, and he clinched the win with two huge plays late. The first was a long 2-point jumper that banked in -- unintentionally -- as Rajon Rondo fouled him, giving the Hawks a commanding 10-point lead with 3:26 left.
“I didn’t yell bank,” he admitted, “I think the bank’s closed now.”
Then, with Boston closing the margin and having the ball, he stole a pass from Rondo and cruised in for a dunk to put Atlanta up 97-88 with 1:05 left and effectively end the proceedings.
In winning, Atlanta swept the season series from a conference foe that has been reluctant to acknowledge them as a rival. The Hawks have been the uppity little brother in this series ever since taking Boston to seven games in the first round in 2008, but after completing a season sweep and moving ahead of Boston in the standings, one wonders if the tables have turned.
“People say it’s only one win or one less, but it’s more than one win,” said Crawford. “We know it’s a team we’re always measured against.”
The win moved Atlanta into sole possession of second place in the East, setting the stage for an uncomfortable possibility for the Celtics --having to play a second-round series without home-court advantage against an Atlanta squad that owned them in the regular season. Atlanta leads Boston by a half a game and owns the tiebreaker.
“We played them here, we played them there, we played them with their whole team, we played them without their whole team,” said Crawford of the four meetings. “We match up well with those guys. We definitely respect them, but we don’t fear anybody.”
The Hawks can earn another distinction this weekend thanks to the win over Boston. With either a win in Orlando on Saturday or a Magic loss to Detroit on Sunday, Atlanta coach Mike Woodson would be named to skipper the Eastern Conference All-Star squad. Woodson -- who still won’t reveal the cause of his eyebrows’ sudden absence -- would get to coach two of his own players in newly minted All-Star Al Horford and perennial fixture Joe Johnson. More interestingly, he’d also get to coach three Celtics: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rondo all are on the team.
Crawford won’t be there, but his heroics put his coach a win away from a trip to Dallas. As for Boston, the hits just keep coming, and not the kind Perkins talked about: Friday’s defeat drops the Celtics to 6-10 since Christmas.