It was a game that had many storylines as the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics lived up to the hype on Friday night primetime.
First of all, it was a contest between two playoff teams fighting for position with the Celtics third and Hawks fourth in the Eastern Conference. But beyond that, this was the first game that Al Horford played in Atlanta as a member of the opposing team.
Horford spent nine successful seasons as a Hawk, but signed with the Celtics this past offseason after the Hawks committed to Dwight Howard as their center. He received a mixed ovation from the home fans, with some still remembering his father’s comments about the city’s lack of support for the team.
Another factor in this matchup was that of the point guards -- Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder. These two clashed in the first round of the playoffs last season, leading to some serious trash talking and even physical confrontation. The Hawks went on to win that series before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the next round.
The Celtics ultimately came out on top despite a major surge by the Hawks’ bench in the fourth quarter. They improve to 25-15 on the campaign and distance themselves a bit from the now 22-17 Hawks.
Mr. Fourth Quarter
As Michelle Beadle of ESPN said shortly after Thomas’s game-winning shot, the nickname of “Mr. Fourth Quarter” has become very appropriate for him. He scored 13 in this one, including the most important two in their final possession, and he leads the league in points per game in the final frame. The last pick of the 2011 draft has made a very strong case to be an all-star starter for the East backcourt, averaging 28.2 points and 6.1 assists on the season.
Al Horford’s homecoming performance wasn’t spectacular, but it was enough to secure his team the win. He played solid defense throughout the night and dished out six assists in addition to his ten points and six rebounds. Kelly Olynyk had a surprisingly good offensive night off the bench, dropping 26 points on 4-5 shooting from three.
Hawks come up just short
Atlanta trailed by over 20 points late in the third quarter, but the play of the bench brought them back into the game and gave them a chance at the end. Tim Hardaway Jr. caught fire in the fourth quarter and ended with 23 points overall. Backup point guard Malcolm Delaney made up for Schroder’s difficult night by scoring 17 and assisting on six buckets.
Paul Millsap battled with his former teammate Horford at times and ended with a typical stat line for him- 23 points, six assists, five rebounds. The forward is no longer being shopped on the trade market, and his play has been a huge reason for the Hawks’ success this season. Fellow big Dwight Howard played just 23 minutes, as Coach Mike Budenholzer elected to go with new addition Mike Dunleavy Jr. down the stretch.
The Hawks host Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday afternoon as they look to bounce back from the tough defeat. The Celtics are back in action on Monday as they host another team in the East playoff hunt, the Charlotte Hornets.