by Lang Whitaker

ATLANTA — Did that really just happen? Seriously, did that just happen? You’re kidding, right?

I don’t know what to say. because if what think just happened actually just happened, the Atlanta Hawks just beat the Boston Celtics, the best team in the NBA, for a second game in a row to tie the first round of the Playoffs at two games apiece. The Hawks won by five, 97-92, but in actuality it wasn’t that close, as the Hawks put the hammer down on the C’s in the fourth behind a 20-point quarter from Joe Johnson and tied up this series up.

Amazing, really. Nobody thought Atlanta had a chance. After the first two games, Stephen A. Smith said they should cancel the rest of the series. The Celts apparently did, because they’ve looked like zombies ever since. Tonight, Atlanta went into the fourth quarter down 10 points, and the Hawks had not outscored Boston by more than 10 points in any quarter for the entire series. So of course, tonight they outscored them by 15 when it really mattered.

And the fans…well, I can’t say enough about them. Writers around America think it’s hilarious to use Atlanta fans as a punchline, to say they don’t support their teams, etc. You know what? They don’t support bad teams. But if you put a good team out there, the ATLiens will come. And the did tonight, in full throat. My ears are still ringing even an hour after the game. I flew myself down here for these two games, and I’d do it again in a second. I may even wander up to Boston on Wednesday to see what happens.

I didn’t get to hang in the Hawks locker room too much pregame because the real Commish (sorry Vince) was in The A tonight. And, just before The Commish met the press, it was announced that Paul Pierce and DeShawn Stevenson had each been fined $25 G’s for making “menacing gestures.” As far as the “I can’t feel my face” thing, I guess Tony Yayo deserves a fine as well? What about Tim Thomas, can he be retroactively fined?

As for Paul Pierce, he apparently threw up some kind of sign after Al Horford yelled at him. On the internets, people said it was a gang sign. Now, I wouldn’t know a gang sign if I tossed it up myself, and a few of the Hawks players had no idea that anything had been “thrown” until I mentioned the fine to them.

More on Stern tomorrow. Let’s jump ahead to tip-off…

• I got a few chills when they introduced Josh Smith as “Atlanta’s own.” I really hope we can keep him this summer.

• 5-0 early after a Ray Allen three and a breakaway dunk from KG. The Celts complement their offense with a foul on KG and a foul on Ray Allen, all within the first 90 seconds.

• Both teams pressing full court to begin. Paul Pierce nails a three and runs back down the court giving what’s either a menacing gesture or a sign for a three. Not so sure I’d flaunt it that early, especially with David Stern and Stu Jackson in the house. But it’s his money.

• Celts go to KG for a turnaround jumper to make it 10-3. Josh Smith drives and gets fouled without a call from KG, and then Ray Allen nails a three. 13-3, Celts, with 9:05 to go in the first. The Celts are 83 percent from the floor including 3-3 on three pointers. The Hawks are 0-3 from the floor. Not good.

• Out of the timeout, the Hawks clear it out for Joe Johnson on the wing and Ray Allen eats him alive. Horford ends up turning it over. Then Paul Pierce nails a three. 16-3, Patriots.

• Josh Smith finally drives and collides with Paul Pierce, who looked like he was straight up and down but still has the foul called on him. Smoove hits both and the Hawks cut it to 11…with 8:10 to go in the first!

• Ray Allen misses a bunny but Perk grabs the board and gets wrapped up on the floor. The Celts bat the ball around but can’t get the handle. The Hawks run down and JJ misses a three. Then Smoove hits a long two over KG. If I’m Boston I can live with that all night. Then Smoove jumps about 12 feet high and pins a Rondo layup. Then Marv crosses over himself and turns it over. Then Bibby hits for a long two. We really need to get him going.

• Perk grabs a rebound and sticks it in. His best game of the series thus far.

• Rondo gets a steal and goes in for a layup, and Smoove catches him and wipes it, as Rondo goes face-first into the photographers. Ouch. The Hawks then get the ball to Joe Johnson for a 10-footer as Rondo gathers himself on the other end. Rondo then misses a J and the Hawks run down and Bibby nails a long three. 21-14, Boston. Timeout Celts.

• Out of the timeout, Pierce gets called for an offensive foul and goes to the bench. JJ takes KG one on one and gets a two. Josh Smith drills a long two. That contract is going through the roof. KG hits a 2 to make it 23-18, Boston. Josh Smith pump fakes KG out of the way and Kendrick Perkins runs him over. Layup and one. Boston clinging to a 23-21 lead.

• KG comes out of the game and the fans go crazy…really loud in here. At the same time, Zaza checks in and I bet he believes the cheers are for him.

• Uh-oh…two fouls on Josh Smith.

• Powe misses another free throw. Why don’t they play Hack-A-Powe when he’s in the game? 24-21.

• Mike Bibby has removed the bag from his head. Three to make it 24-all. Rondo initiates contact and gets his second. That’s good news. The bad news is that Damn Cassell checked in. Bibby makes one free throw to give Boston a 25-24 lead.

• Zaza! He flops and Perk picks up an offensive foul. If they institute a flopping rule and don’t call it The Ginobili Rule, they should call it The Zaza Rule.

• Chillz with a tip-in, then Zaza catches under the basket and pump fakes about 100 times and misses a layup before the Celts tip it out of bounds.

• After a 20 second timeout, as the clock runs down to end the first, Joe Johnson crosses over Posey and rips a two to make it 29-24, Hawks. Good grief. After trailing 16-3, Atlanta went on a 26-8 run to end the first. And Rondo, KG and Pierce each have two fouls and are benched.

• Josh Smith had 10 points, Bibby had 11. Rondo and KG are featured on the Kiss Cam and KG looks like he might wring someone’s neck.

• Horford with the dunk to start the second. Boston desperately needs to get someone going, and Powe works inside for two. Chillz gets his 6th rebound and Bibby hits for two. Then the Hawks force a 24 second violation. My goodness.

• Horford drives the paint and Big Baby attacks him as if he were a Happy Meal. Horford flexes for the cameras afterwards, then makes two free throws. Hawks up 35-26. They could be ahead by 30 right now and I wouldn’t be comfortable.

• Pierce checks in and wets a three. Childress forces a two and Damn Cassell tries to draw a shooting foul and throws it off the glass from 30 feet away. Time out, 35-29, Atlanta with 8:54 to play in the second. The Hawks seem to believe that they can play with the Celts. Even if I don’t.

• The Celts go to Pierce out of the timeout, and Marv fouls him on the floor. Not sure Marv can handle Pierce solo. The Hawks switch it and put Childress on him and Big Baby double-dribbles in the open court.

• Marv tries to take Posey to no avail, then Cassell attacks Zaza to less avail. Then Chillz grabs his eighth board and Marv gets fouled by James Posey and makes two free throws to make it 37-29.

• Joe Johnson checks in. Pierce misses a jumper and Acie Law runs after it but gets stopped by a nice open field tackle by Tedy Brusc…I mean, James Posey. No call.

• Wow! And it all finally boils over, with Zaza Pachulia is in the middle of it. I didn’t see exactly what happened live, but Josh Childress was cracking up afterwards. After watching the replay, it looked like KG gave Zaza a little love tap to the chest/throat area. Zaza then ran up and tried to nuzzle heads with KG. And did KG elbow a ref?

• Refs watch the replay. Zaza gets a foul, and then Zaza, Joe Johnson, KG and Damn Cassell all pick up technical fouls, which all offset. So it’s like they called a foul on Zaza and that’s all. What’s important, though, is that the Hawks stood up to Boston again. And they refused to back down. Now I see why Zaza is called “Klitschko” in the locker room.

• Rondo hits for two to make it 37-31, Atlanta. Hawks miss a shot (an airball from Horford), KG misses a shot, Horford misses a shot, then Posey picks up a foul. Smoove and Bibby return. Then Horford walks.

• Ray Allen strokes a three from the corner and Joe Johnson comes right back with a two. The Celts look tired out there — KG has his hands on his knees on offense. Timeout, Hawks clinging to 39-36 lead.

• A free throw makes it 39-37, then KG and Ray Allen can’t connect on a pass that might have put them ahead.

• Illegal defense on Boston gives Atlanta a 3 point lead. then Joe Johnson comes off a pick and strokes a long two. Rondo gets a put-back to make it 42-39.

• Zaza is wearing some sort of rubber band around his head, I think. That must be a huge rubber band. Kendrick Perkins makes a layup, then, on the other end, fouls Bibby hard, and he hits two. Then Josh Childress does a Josh Smith impression and pounds one to put the Hawks up two.

• All things considered, I think it’s been a pretty evenly-called game tonight. Both teams have 12 fouls and Atlanta actually has more turnovers (8 to 6) and Boston has more assists and rebounds. HOWEVA!, the Hawks are driving the ball more and have taken 10 more free throws than Boston.

• Hmm. Both teams get a delay of game warning out of the timeout. Pierce then misses a free throw and makes one. Joe Johnson then works Ray Allen and hits a rainbow to make it 48-42. Then Rondo rips off a nice drive and scores to make it 48-44.

• The Celts miss three layups and the Hawks respond with a layup. 50-44. 1:06 left in the half.

• Rondo pops a jumper from the elbow, and then Pierce picks up his third foul trying to strip Bibby and coming up empty. That’s three on Pierce with 54 seconds left. Bibby makes one and misses the second, and Zaza crashes to the floor chasing the loose ball.

• At the half, the Hawks lead 51-48. Bibby has 18 points and Joe Johnson has a lucky 13. Pierce has 14 and Ray Allen has 11.

• At the half I caucus with the Smiths (Sekou and Steve, who is doing the local broadcast). Steve says that he said on TV that you don’t want to get in a headbutting contest with Zaza, and he even circled Zaza’s dome with the telestrator.

• KG scores to start the second half. Someone sitting courtside during the first half tells me KG must have “the dirtiest mouth in the NBA…every other word is an f-bomb.” Smoove hits for two, then KG hits for two again. 53-52, Boston.

• Marv misses a two, Ray Allen misses a three, Josh Smith misses a three. We’re barely a minute in.

• The Celts try to isolate KG on Bibby, but Horford doubles and KG misses a jumper over him. Marv tries to initiate contact on a drive against Pierce, and picks up an obvious offensive foul. Pierce hits a three and throws up three fingers.

• The Hawks miss two shots and get offensive rebounds before Marv hits a jumper from the wing, his sweet spot. The Celts miss and Hawks break and Bibby misses an open three. 55 all.

• KG rips a long two to give Boston the lead, then Josh Smith hits an awkward lefty turnaround hook. Smoove wipes a two from Pierce and Joe misses an open three. Rondo reciprocates.

• Joe Johnson weaves through Perk, Rondo and Pierce for a layup, and Perk gets called for an over the back foul after Horford goes down under the rim. Timeout and Hawks lead 59-57. I think I needed that timeout worse than either team.

• Hawks take a bad shot out of the timeout — Horford from 18 feet — and then Ray Allen pops a three to give Boston a lead. Marv hits a two and KG dunks it on Josh Smith, who gets dunked on a lot because he’s always trying to block everything.

• Uh-oh for Boston: Pierce picks up his fourth foul with 3:58 remaining in the third. Yo, Powe! Marv makes two free throws to put Atlanta ahead. Then Rondo hits a runner to give Boston the lead. The Hawks turn it over and Posey gets a run out and gets fouled by Bibby. Posey hits one and gets his own rebound on the second. Boston re-sets and Ray Allen hits a long two. Boston’s up 67-63. Time out.

• The Hawks introduce the A-Team Dancers and a bunch of men run out on the floor. “What’s this?” I ask the guy next to me. “Fat guys,” he says. Of course.

• The Celts come back from the time out and Josh Childress whacks Rondo hard. He makes two to put Boston up 69-63.

• The Hawks have to get the tempo back in their favor, because this halfcourt offense doesn’t cut it, not against the best defense in the League. Meanwhile, Mike Bibby and Kevin Garnett have now had jump balls on back-to-back possessions. Guess who won them both?

• Posey nails an open three. Hawks turn it over for their third straight possession. KG gets fouled inside and Mike Woodson stalks out on the court like he’s surprised the Hawks are capable of playing this poorly.

• KG comes out of the timeout and hits one, then misses the second. Boston’s up ten.

• The Hawks have stopped moving the ball on offense, and Boston’s done a good job of pretending to double-team and then backing away, confusing the Hawks. Josh Smith finally drives in and hits a lay-in. Rondo gets one right back. Josh Smith responds with a three-point airball. The Hawks get a stop at the end of the quarter but the damage is done — Boston leads 75-65 after three. Boston outscored Atlanta 27-24 that quarter. Zaza Pachulia, who had a +8 rating in the first half, doesn’t even get off the bench. The Hawks are going to need an epic effort in the fourth to win this.

• Eddie House checks in for Boston. I wasn’t sure he was even active.

• Joe Johnson and Horford run a two-man game out of the break and JJ gets a three to cut it to 7. KG misses a turnaround amd Horford clears. J-Smoove hits a long two on the baseline and makes it 75-70. Timeout, Boston with 11:01 left in the game. Did that really just happen?

• During the timeout they show “Catastrophe Theater” on the scoreboard, which is like a bunch of America’s Funniest Home Videos strung together. The crowd loves it because, and I’ve lived my life by this maxim, everyone loves bloopers.

• Posey misses a three out of the timeout. Horford passes it to KG. Pierce checks back in but Boston runs a play for Leon Powe, who misses a short jumper. The Hawks get it inside to Chillz, and the Celts double him(!), and he hits JJ for a two to make it 75-72. Ray Allen nails a three to make it 5 again.

• Josh Smith tried to go one-on-one against the defensive player of the year, Kevin Garnett, and ends up shooting a 30-footer that Horford rebounds. Bibby returns. Joe Johnson goes one-on-four and misses. KG barely misses a long two. Josh Smith drives back and gets a foul against KG. To the line…good, good. 78-74, Boston. 8 minutes to go in the game.

• Pierce goes one-on-one against Marv and draws a foul. He goes to the line…miss, good. 79-74, Boston.

• Boston is forcing Marv to try and drive against Pierce, and he’s just not strong enough to do it. Boston forces a 24-second violation and Chillz runs to the table to replace Marv. In the meantime, Smoove draws a foul on Powe. To the line for two…good, good. Boston leads 79-76 with 6:58 to go.

• Ray Allen misses a three from the corner — feels like the first shot he’s missed all night. For some reason, by the way, Eddie House is still in the game. Maybe Cassell is hurt? Did House win a bet against Doc Rivers?

• Joe Johnson drives and scores to cut it to one. Then House shoots a three that gets nothing but backboard. The Hawks bring it down with a chance to take the lead and Boston knocks it out of bounds. Boston leads 79-78 with 5:53 to go. I need a drink.

• Coming out of this timeout, I’m curious what the Hawks will do…and they can’t get the ball inbounds and have to take a 20. Sigh.

• This time they get it in and JJ misses a baseline jumper. Tough shot but one he usually makes. Then KG is called for a walk, which I didn’t see but he doesn’t seem to disagree with the call.

• Hawks come back and Pierce is caught standing under the basket guarding…I don’t know, the net? JJ hits the technical free throw to tie the game at 79 with 5:23 to play.

• Hawks inbounds to Josh Smith who nails a long two that shocks everyone on press row. Hawks take the lead.

• Pierce comes back and misses a three.

• Hawks come back and Joe solos up against Powe, who swipes at Joe and gets his feet tangled up and falls down. Wide open, JJ backs up and swishes a wide open three. Hawks take a 5 point lead, 84-79. Timeout Boston with 4:33 to go. All season long Joe has always missed those open threes…until just now. (Don’t tell anyone, but when JJ swished that three, I broke my press row poker face and briefly stood up before I regained my composure.)

• Just got a text from Wifey: “Don’t have a heart attack.”

• This place is rocking out of the timeout. Celts back to their starters. KG drives and gets fouled by Horford. KG misses the first free throw, makes the second. 84-80, 4:16 to go.

• JJ misses a jumper over a double team but Horford rebounds and the Hawks reset, then JJ drives for a two to put the Hawks up 6, 86-80, with 3:20 to go.

• JJ drives on Rondo and gets called for an offensive foul, which looks like a good call. He doesn’t argue it. KG hits a runner to make it 86-82, ATL. 2:31 to go.

• JJ drives on three Celts and hits a runner, gives the Hawks an 88-82 lead with 2:15 to go. Doc Rivers just burned his final full timeout. I still think Boston is going to win this game.

• Out of the timeout, if I’m Boston I go inside to KG. The Celts go inside to KG, who hits a turnaround and makes it 88-84.

• JJ and Bibby pick and roll and JJ hits a runner over three guys to make it 90-84. Anyone still not sure why Joe Johnson is an All-Star?

• Boston brings in Damn Cassell for Rondo. So much for Rondo still playing at crunch time.

• Posey nails a three to make it 90-87 with 1:23 left. Then Ray Allen grabs JJ on a pick for a foul. Ray can’t keep up with him and the Hawks are wearing him out.

• Celts put Pierce on JJ. Smoove ends up jacking up a long three and missing, but Chillz rebounds and re-sets. JJ gets the ball and drives at Pierce and Pierce is called for the block, his fifth foul. JJ to the line… good, miss. Your Atlanta Hawks lead 91-87, with 39.7 to go.

• Wow. Pierce drives around a KG pick and finds himself wide open under the basket…and he blows the lay-up! J-Smoove with the rebound and he’s fouled. To the line…good, good. Hawks lead 93-87. Ironically, with those free throws, J-Smoove might have saved Woody’s job.

• 26.2 left. Ray Allen drives and dunks. 93-89 with 18.7 left. Hawks take a TO and move it to halfcourt. Out of the timeout the run the same inbounds play we used to run in high school, “X,” where all four guys cross just cross paths and someone usually pops open. JJ gets it and goes to the line…good and good. 95-89 with 14.3 left.

• The Hawks give a foul with 10.9 left. Boston inbounds again and Posey swishes a three to make it 95-92 with 4.3 left. Hawks call their last timeout and advance it to halfcourt.

• Hawks set up for X again, but instead Josh Smith fakes a screen and turns and moves toward the ball. Posey fouls him with 2.6 left. To the line…he nails the first and clinches it. Nails the second, also. Hawks go ahead 97-92 and win the game.