BOSTON - Evan Turner, Blizzard Hero.
The Celtics were staring at another wire-to-wire loss to one of the top teams in the league, but Evan Turner had none of that mishigas. After nearly turning the ball over and giving the game away multiple times in the final minutes, the 50 Shades of Grey superfan blew past the Demarre Carroll to hit a floater with 0.2 seconds left.
Turner nearly dribbled the ball away under heavy pressure on the previous two possessions, forcing Brad Stevens to call timeouts to reset the offense. The logical conclusion would be to take the ball out of his hands with a few seconds remaining. But although Turner was erratic with the ball all night, Stevens was betting on a high note.
He certainly got it, as Turner drove left, went behind his back and got into the middle of the paint. As Kent Bazemore closed in with Carroll trailing, Turner popped up a floater just over their reach. As it hit its peak in the air, it was clear that it was destined for the bottom of the net.
"The only thing I was worried about was Avery's reaction when he thought he was going to get the ball. When I made the move, he was like "$#!t Evan!" and I was like, "You're gonna hug me in a second!" I just felt really confident in that situation and thank God it went in."
Turner got that hug, as Bradley watched him hit the game-winner over the league's top team.
The Celtics haven't had much success in late-game situations the past two years, but Stevens struck gold with Turner Wednesday night. Just ask Jared Sullinger.
"I've seen him do it time and time again," Sullinger said after his game-high 15 rebounds to go with a team-high 17 points. "The biggest thing is, with six seconds, it's kind of hard to draw up an action. We had to go through individual plays and I thought he made a great individual play."
Turner isn't afraid to make the play, even joking about his catalogue of game-winners.
"I missed a few in Philly a little bit, I never took advantage of keeping a memory from it and a lot in college so I've been fortunate enough to hit a few so now just on my sheet I just wrote second game winner with the Celtics."
But Turner is built to take those kind of shots. Although the game gets away from him when he is forced to run point for extended minutes, he can thrive as a go-to player in crunch time.
"Evan [had] the option to drive," he said. "And I knew when I told Evan he had the option to drive, I knew that he was probably not going to get rid of the ball; I thought he was going to try to take it and make a play.
"One thing about Evan is he's big, with the ability to handle the ball, so he's going to be able to get a shot like he got off, like that, from a similar area to where he beat us last year when he was playing for Philadelphia."
But the late-game heroics can't mask what was a wire-to-wire lead up until that shot. The Hawks were, as you would expect, the more efficient and dynamic team for the first 45 minutes. The Celtics responded well when Marcus Thornton started the second half over Marcus Smart, as his deep shooting catalyzed a run.
Atlanta was able to respond and it appeared as though the better team was showing its stripes. But as Al Horford continued to be the only player in the game shooting well, the Celtics as a whole were able to wear Atlanta down.
Sullinger's rebounding was crucial, as he had five offensive rebounds and the Celtics dramatically won the second chance points category 23 to 6.
The Celtics go into the break with a win against the first team to have four All-Stars since...you guessed it... the Celtics. Especially considering they have nobody participating in New York this weekend, Stevens wants the team to enjoy their break with continued momentum on their mind.
"So, I just told them, ‘Don't lose the momentum of what we've worked towards, but get off your feet and get some rest.' And I think that's something that we all have to do. We have a lot of room to improve."
With the trade deadline looming, the Celtics could have an even further altered roster when they meet after the break. For now, it's time to get out of the snow.