2. The Hawks erased the 20-point deficit with three starters on the bench. Schroder, Dwight Howard and Thabo Sefolosha were out. Tim Hardaway Jr., Malcolm Delaney and Mike Dunleavy were in. Hardaway had 15 fourth-quarter points as Delaney added 10 and Dunleavy six. Hardaway and Paul Millsap hit back-to-back 3-pointers to completely erase the deficit and tied the game at 101-101 with 25.6 seconds left.
“We just played with momentum,” Hardaway said. “We kept running, getting open looks, when we got open lanes we drove hard. We finished the play, made the extra pass and when made open shots.”
Thomas then broke the Hawks’ hearts with his game-winner.
“They had a good rhythm,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of his decision to stay with the bench players. “They started the fourth quarter with a good rhythm. They were playing well. We just rode them. … They gave us our best chance. We went a little smaller, spread them out, a little more athleticism. At least for a certain stretch that was helpful.”
3. Lost in the tightly-contested game, was the return of Al Horford. The long-time Hawk made his first appearance at Philips Arena after signing with the Celtics as an unrestricted free agent over the summer.
Horford was largely booed during the game. First during pre-game introductions and then each time he touched the ball for much of the game.
The Hawks did play a video tribute to Horford’s time in Atlanta on the scoreboard during the first quarter. Horford and his new teammates intently watched the tribute and the Philips Arena crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Then it was back to basketball and the booing.
“They were unexpected,” said Horford, who spent his first nine seasons with the Hawks. “I don’t want to say anything. It is what it is. I know there are a lot of fans out there who appreciated my time here and I appreciate them.”
Horford finished with 10 points, six assists, six rebounds, one steal and one block.
4. The Celtics won the game from the 3-point line. They finished with 17 long-range makes, tying the most allowed by the Hawks this season.
They started the game making 8 of their first 12 3-pointers and built a 15-point lead during the run. When it appeared the Hawks had corrected in the second quarter, the Celtics started the third quarter with a run of five 3-pointers.
The Hawks have had trouble defending the 3-point line all season – and it cost them again. Thomas made 5 3-pointers and Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk each made four.
“Start of the first quarter, start of the third quarter were carbon copies,” Budenholzer said. “A lot of made 3’s. Some good looks. Some tough ones. They executed well. Both the second quarter, the end of the third quarter and the fourth quarter we were able to get the 3-point line under control. Isaiah Thomas hit a couple of them where I wish we were up and made him drive and take the 3-point line away from him.”
5. Mark your calendars. The next game between the teams will be Feb. 27 in Boston. The end of the season- series, only three games this year, will be April 6 back in Atlanta.
“You play a team and you battle every other night for six or seven games, you start to see red when you look at them,” said Kent Bazemore, who finished with 12 points. “Very intense game. Both sides knew what was laying on this one. The game ended not in our favor but all the competitiveness, the fouls, the pushing and shoving, that’s what it’s all about. That’s playoff basketball. We know what level we have to be at to beat them.”
Delaney, new to the rivalry, said he quickly understood what was on the line.
“Just coming into it and seeing the tension between the two teams, it’s like a small rivalry,” Delaney said. “… You could feel it. Even with the media and building up the game with Al (Horford) and the playoff series last year and everything going on, it was fun.”