I have to be honest: I was excited to watch this game. It had nice subtext and plots going into it and the characters did not fail to hit thier performances.
Antoine Walker came into town tonight for his latest meeting against the Celtics, in Boston. Last time he came as a League and Western Conference front-running Dallas Maverick. This time, as an Atlanta Hawk, he travels back to town with a bad ATL team who's got alot of young potential, but no "NOW" players, except Walker and probably Al Harrington, who can realistically still meet the criteria for both types after forcing a trade out of Indiana so he could start.
Before the game, Doc Rivers interview with Mike Gorman yeilded the following comment on Antoine Walker in relation to the Celtics Defense: "Well, you know 'Toine. When he's on, he's a tough cover..........When he off.........well, that's a good thing for us" Tonight, 'Toine would mostly prove to be a tough cover.
Then of course, you have the element of the Celtics #2 go-to scorer/player, Ricky Davis. It was fairly clear he sent a message tonight, whether purposeful or not, that he was quite capable of helping Paul shoulder the load that Walker used to.
Ok, enough of the subtext, let's play ball:
A Gary Payton turn-around opened the scoring for the C's and a Paul Pierce to Raef LaFrentz play to make the score 4-2 and the C's would have a lead that they never relinquished. The Celtics, for most of the first half, passed and shared the ball absolutely beautifully at times. In fact, ATL called a time out at 8:20 because the C's had passed and pushed thier way to a quick 11-2 score. ' Toine came out of the timeout and scored.
The C's led 13-5 at the 6:40 point, when Hawks Rookie sensation Josh Smith collected his 50th dunk of the season, coming in over everyone to put a rebound back down. This kid is an athletic freak who understands shotblocking timing and rebounding positioning and doesn't just rely on his athleticism. That's a dangerous conbination, so my advice would be to watch out for this kid. He's gonna be really good.
Because I've mentioned the passing of the C's, I want to pay quick homage to an ATL play around the 6:00 mark in which they collected a rebound, pushed the ball up the floor, only dribbling once, passed the ball 6 times in 9 secs and scoring a layup by Collier, making the C's lead now only 13-10.
GP to a cutting Raef along the baseline and the C's led 19-12 with 3:40 left. A reversal of delivery roles saw PP hitting a running GP for 2 more. (GP scored 8 pts in the 1st Q) The Celtics now led 23-12. Al Jefferson collected a bucket on a rebounded put back that he and Raef kept alive for about 5 successive tips. Tony Allen entered the game for PP at 2:05 and Pierce left with 4pt, assts.
Ricky Davis got into the books, for the first of many baskets on the night, at 1:12 with a short jumper. He then got a traditional 3pt play when going strong to the hoop with :27 left. Celtics ended the 1st leading 31-21.
Banks, RD, Perkins, Waltah and TA started the 2nd quarter. RD got back into the scoring act around the 9:00 mark when he had a thunderous follow-up dunk off a Celtic miss. 36-25 Celtics.
Al Harrinton got called for PALMING at 8:10. (I only bring this up because it's an unusual call) The Celtics had another run of great passing, combining on 3 straight passing plays for scores. At 5:17, the Celtics led 43-31. The teams then traded baskets until 1:58 when Blount hit a 15fter to make it 53-41. Drobnjak got it to within 10 pts with a score at 1:20 53-45. The Half ended with the Celtics in front 56-47. The Celtics shot 53%, with ATL shooting 37%.
The first real action of the 2nd half was at 9:23 'Toine, getting a shot to his funny bone that he didn't think was so funny and left the game for a short while, likely to get the tingling/numbing to go away. However, PP hit a 3 to break the lull and at 8:36 the C's led 64-53. ( At this point, Tommy Heinsohn mentioned that it looked like PP was being tenative when being defended by the young athletic freak Smith, possible worried about the fact that Smith was blocking/altering shots well thus far. As soon as PP got Childress, Heinsohn noted the difference in the tenacity of Pierce's drive. Against Smith, PP went too much east to west, while against Childress, he did just as Ricky Davis was doing so successfully, which was to go right to the hole on ATL. North to south and hard all the way.) The Celtics then started to move the ball around. PP to GP on another full court break involving just the 2 and the C's led 66-53 with 7:48 left.
RD quelled an ATL mini run with a 3pter at 5:24 which saw the Celtic lead at 71-60. However, Former Celtics Kenny Anderson and Antoine Walker worked thier own magic on 2 successive scores and the C's called a timeout with 4:35 left and the C's lead now under 10, at 71-64.
RD then came alive again with 2 consecutive scores of his own and it was 75-66 with 3:05 left. Kenny and 'Toine were at it again and on another set of consecutive plays, cut the Celtic lead to 75-70 with 2:00 remaining. GP gave a scare to the Fleet faithful, when taking a hard, head first fall at 1:26. Thankfully GP wasn't injured.
RD hit another jumper to give him 25 of the last 50 Celtic points with :24 left and the 3rd ended with the Celtics leading 80-76.
Tommy Heinsohn gleefully yelling "I Love" Waltah into my living room by opening up the scoring in the final quarter with a 3pter at 11:12. Big Al Jefferson broke a quasi-scoring drought at 8:43 with 2 FT's and the Celtic lead was 88-76. Drobnjak hit a 3pter :20 later and it's 88-79.
Marcus Banks shot FT's at 7:44 to make it 90-79. During his time at a line, Mike Gorman shared a quote from Marcus: "This is the first time I've ever really been coached about the GAME. Not about my skills,........THE GAME" Just thought I'd share that.
The C's then committed a couple of turnovers on plays they should have scored on with careless and over-passing. Not sure if someone passed on Tommy's advice, but PP went strong to the hole at 5:20 to keep the C's with a buffer at 92-85. Raef then hit a 3pter and the C's officially had breathing room again, up again by 10, at 95-85. PP hit another 2 at 4:32 and RD hit another 3 at 3:26, throw some FT's in with those scores and around the 3:00 mark, the C's led 102-88. GP went strong to the hoop at 1:50 and it ended with the Celtics winning 104-88. Small stuff happened to close this one out, but it ended in comfortable, 12 pt Celtic win.
Final Score: 106-94
Player of the Game: (It's your call, but here's my list of worthy candidates)
Gary Payton: 6/14 FG, 15pts, 3 rbs, 7 assts. (Notable effort. Helped C's get off to quick start)
Paul Pierce: 7/17 FG, 21 pts, 15 rbs, 7 asst, 2 stls. (Stat line and play was simply impressive.) (Walker: 10/30 FG, 21pts, 17 rbs, 8 assts, 2 stls.)
Ricky Davis: 11/16 FG, 30 pts, 4rbs, 1 stl. (If I had to make a call, I'd probably go with RD tonight. That run of 25pts scored during a stretch in which the team scored 50 was impressive as well.)