Celtics hold on to beat Hawks, 79-76

Celtics hold on to beat Hawks, 79-76
March 20, 2012, 2:25 am
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ATLANTA One by one, the opportunities were there for the Boston Celtics.

And one by one, the Atlanta Hawks found a way to turn them back.

That is, until it mattered most - the fourth quarter.

In a game that in many ways was vintage Boston Celtics, the Green Team turned up the intensity at both ends of the floor and rallied for a 79-76 win.

Atlanta, led by Joe Johnson, refused to go away quietly even after the Celtics seemingly had the game under control.

He finished with a game-high 25 points which included a 3-pointer that cut Boston's lead to just one point with less than 10 seconds to play. But a pair of free throws by Ray Allen who led the Celtics with 19 points, secured the win.

That, and an air ball in the closing seconds by Jeff Teague.

Even as they squandered so many chances during the first three quarters to tie the game or take the lead, their confidence in getting the win never faded.

During time-outs throughout the game, you could still hear the likes of Paul Pierce reminding his teammates to, "keep grinding."

And that's what they did, blowing the game wide open with a 23-7 run to start the fourth which gave them a 73-58 lead.

But the Hawks (26-20) were proving to be a grind-it-out club as well, continuing to battle back in the game's closing minutes.

A pair of free throws by Zaza Pachulia cut Boston's lead to 75-68.

And after a Celtics miss, Joe Johnson brought the Hawks even closer with a 3-pointer that made it a 75-71 game with 57.4 seconds to play.

Boston (24-21), sensing a great rally was gradually fading into another unforgettable collapse, called a time-out.

Prior to the game, C's coach Doc Rivers as well as some players pointed toward this week's games, beginning with Atlanta, being pivotal to their plans for a strong postseason push.

The Hawks are one of the teams the C's know they have to pass in order to finish with the highest possible seeding. Up next is Milwaukee (20-24), a team that's on the Celtics' heels that has won five in a row.