A new chapter is being written in the book of the Hawks-Celtics rivalry.
Dennis Schroder and Isaiah Thomas are the main characters in the rekindled drama between the NBA teams. Both point guards are well known for their competitive nature, and it boiled over again Friday night.
There were others that came before.
Dominique Wilkins and Larry Bird went head-to-head in a legendary scoring duel during Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals. The Celtics won the deciding game 118-116. Wilkins scored 47 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, and Bird scored 34 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter.
Zaza Pachulia and Kevin Garnett literally went head-to-head during Game 4 of the 2008 quarterfinals. Pachulia took exception to an elbow foul and faced off with Garnett. The eighth-seeded Hawks won the game, but lost the series in seven as the Celtics went on to win the NBA championship.
Schroder and Thomas got mixed up during Game 3 of their quarterfinal series last season. Thomas slapped Schroder after scoring a basket. The two had to be separated and were assessed technical fouls. Thomas had his foul upgraded to a Flagrant Foul I after league review. The Hawks won the series in six games.
Which brings us to the latest incident Friday night.
In the first of three games this season, the Celtics lost a 20-point lead but won 103-101 when Thomas hit a 19-foot step back jump over Kent Bazemore with 2.4 seconds remaining. Thomas finished with a game-high 28 points and nine assists. Schroder was limited by early foul trouble and finished with only four points and three assists. He didn’t play the final 15 minutes as the Hawks mounted their comeback with reserves Tim Hardaway Jr., Malcolm Delaney and newly acquired Mike Dunleavy.
The Celtics made 3-pointer after 3-pointer and eventually built the substantial lead. They were up by 18 points when Thomas was subbed out with 3:45 remaining in the third quarter. On his way to the bench, he shouted at Philips Arena fans, several times, that Schroder “ain’t nothing.”
Following the game, Schroder said the foul trouble got him out of rhythm. He was asked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the trash talk with Thomas, including the third-quarter comments.
“I’m playing basketball,” Schroder said. “If he think that he got to curse at my mom or say some dumb stuff about my family, that has nothing to do with basketball. That’s his choice. I’ve got too much class for that. Next one, we are going to get it.”
Schroder’s comment was sent out on social media via Twitter by an AJC reporter.
Thomas responded to the comment hours later, specifically to the reporter, via Twitter in two posts.
- "not sure what the quote is referring to but one thing is certain I would never disrespect/talk trash about anyones family/mom"
- "That type of trash talk is not my style & never has been. Flat out NEVER happened."
The two teams, currently third and fourth in the Eastern Conference, meet again Feb. 27 in Boston. The final regular-season meeting is April 6 in Atlanta.
Hawks players said afterward that the game had a playoff atmosphere and that there was something extra on the line. Long-time Hawks center Al Horford played his first game against his former team after signing with the Celtics as an unrestricted free agent. He was booed during introductions and each time he touched the ball, but did receive a standing ovation after a video tribute was played. Add that to the Hawks-Celtics rivalry.
Bazemore said he felt the carryover from last season’s playoff matchup in the latest edition.
“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,” Bazemore said. “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.”
Several Hawks players said they are already looking forward to rematch after coming so close to a remarkable comeback. The next chapter awaits.