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Horford’s happy homecoming helped by IT’s hot hand in 103-101 win

Isaiah Thomas leads the Celtics over the Hawks.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes a game takes on an early storyline and then morphs into something different entirely, before taking yet another turn and tonight was one of those nights. The game started out as Al Horford’s return to Atlanta, where he played the first nine years of his career. Then it quickly turned into a shooting exhibition by Boston, as the Celtics rained down triples to open the game. Then the game took another turn, Atlanta fought back in it and all of a sudden neither team could hit anything. After the hot start and a double digit lead, the Celtics entered halftime up just four. The hot shooting picked back up in the third, while the defense locked down, as Boston built a lead as large as 20. The Hawks rallied back to tie the game at 101, as they’re shooting picked up late.

Then #TheKingInThe4th took over. The littlest guy on the court continues to show the biggest heart, as Isaiah Thomas took over down the stretch to win it for Boston. He hit the game winner with 2.4 seconds left, part of his 13 fourth quarter points. Thomas would score 28 on the game with nine assists. The loss snapped Atlanta’s seven game winning streak and pushed the Celtics back in front of the Hawks by 2.5 games for the 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

On Horford’s homecoming, it was another Boston big who stole the show in Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk shot 9-11 from the floor for 26 points. Besides Olynyk’s big night, Jae Crowder stepped up with 18 points, including four triples, and nine rebounds.

And of course we have to mention Horford. After being booed during introductions and receiving mixed boos and cheers during a tribute video, he proceeded to show the exact kind of all-around game Boston signed him for. He scored 10 points on 4-8 shooting, grabbed six rebounds, handed out six assists and blocked a shot and picked up a steal. Both he and Olynyk were successful at pulling Horford’s replacement, Dwight Howard, away from the paint and forcing him to defend on the perimeter where he’s not as comfortable as he is inside.

For the Hawks, they were led by Paul Millsap, fresh off the trade block, with 23 points and six assists. Howard added 11 points and eight rebounds, but Atlanta struggle to shoot the ball. The Hawks hit just 43% on the night, as Boston showed the type of scrambling, scrappy defense that lifted them to the playoffs the last two seasons at times throughout the night.

One thing to note with this Celtics team: They’ve shown a remarkable ability to come back on any team. Almost no deficit is too big for them to come back from. On the flip side, they’ve shown a maddening propensity to allow opponents to rally back on them. There seems to be a lack of killer instinct to step on the throat of an opponent and finish them off. Certainly something to monitor the rest of the way, as a blow out here and there would help get key players some valuable rest down the stretch.

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