My cellphone rang this afternoon around 2:00 p.m. It was my main man Sekou Smith, who covers the Hawks for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I know you’re in town today,” he said. “Don’t even lie to me. Your team makes the Playoffs after 9 years, you better be here.”
You better believe I’m here. The ATL. And I’m ready to get it stated in here…
• Pregame, I wandered into an empty Hawks locker room and someone grabbed my arm and started shaking me vigorously. “Get fired up! Come on Lang, get fired up! Come on!” OK, so Josh Smith is ready to play.
Then I hear someone singing from around a corner. “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run…”
Marvin Williams, everyone. I point out that I was surprised by his song selection, considering his full name is Marvin Gaye Williams.
“I can’t sing,” he said. “But I like to try.” You go, then.
• Crowd is pretty fired up tonight. The National Anthem came from Bobby Yang. No idea who he is but he can play a mean fiddle. I’m waiting for him to break into “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”
• Loud boos for the Celtics introductions. Color me surprised. It helped that PA man Ryan Cameron sped through the intros.
• Before they announce the Hawks players, they release a live Hawk from the upper deck and it swoops down to halfcourt. It’s actually pretty cool. Hawks TV analyst Steve Smith told me before the game that he hopes the Hawk attacks him. I hope so, too, because that would be awesome.
• Pregame video shows a bunch of teams “shocking the world,” which is pretty great if only because it gave the Hawks a chance to show the Patriots getting beat in the Superbowl, complete with a shot of a bereft Tom Brady. The Celts are still probably going to win, but whatever. That made my night.
• Hawks win the tip and go to Joe Johnson, who hits an open Marvin Williams, who misses a three. Picking up where he left off. And picking up where the refs left off, Kendrick Perkins gets two gift free throws and makes them both.
• Tonight’s refs, by the way, are Violet Palmer, Bennett Salvatore and Tom Washington. I don’t know what happened, but play stops for about two or three minutes while Kendrick Perkins is attended to after bleeding all over the court. I think it’s a good sign for the Hawks that Perkins was bleeding red.
• Joe Johnson scores to tie it and the Hawks force a five second violation. The Celts don’t care and go ahead 6-2.
• Joe Johnson scores to make it 6-4, and then Paul Pierce hits a 3. Then Bibby tosses up an alley-oop from halfcourt that Josh Smith flushes. Wow. I wish he’d sit on Pierce’s head again, though.
• Marv hits from the corner to make it 11-8. Rondo responds. Josh Smith flushes an open dunk. 13-10, Boston.
• According to the NBA.com box score, Leon Powe has played 11 minutes. There’s 7:30 left in the first. Marv swishes two free throws to make it 13-12, Boston. Bibby picks Pierce’s pocket and hits Smoove for a dunk. Hawks take the lead. Then the Celts score 4, and then the Hawks come back and grab a 17-16 lead on a three-point play by Josh Smith. Josh is balling tonight. Nine points for Smoove. (And 5 assists for Bibby.)
• There’s a problem with the clock here at Philips Arena. Can’t believe it. In the meantime, possible nicknames for Josh Howard:
• Clock is fixed, I guess. 5:40 left in the first, Boston ahead 18-17. Ray Allen misses his first three pointer of the series. Hawks work it to Horford in the post, and he hit Joe Johnson for a thre from the corner. We really need to get him rolling. KG does everything he can not to shoot a 15-footer on the other end, and finally shoots and swishes. Then Josh Smith drains a long three and the apocalypse occurs.
• Timeout with 3:24 to go and the Hawks ahead 25-20. I’m so pleased with this that I won’t even complain about Bennett Salvatore screwing the Hawks by not calling a foul when Kendrick Perkins grabs Horford’s arm and makes him miss a dunk. Josh Smith has 12 points, and I have a surprised look on my face.
• Al Horford just took Kendrick Perkins’ masculinity, rolled it into a ball and set it on fire., tomahawked on the poor kid. Then he scores on his again the next time down. Hawks up 9, 29-20. The Celts actually take a timeout.
• Great scoreboard video of the Hawks logo showing up all over Boston. Uh-oh…Zaza is in the game.
• Cassell nails a long two out of the timeout. I’m cahing his name to Damn Cassell.
• Zaza just out-flopped Cassell! Can’t believe it. Zaza nails both free throws. Take him out, Woody! He’s used up his effectiveness! Hawks ahead 31-22.
• Uh-oh, JJ picks up his second foul and goes to the bench with 1:25 remaining. Pierce to the line: good and good. Hawks ahead 31-24.
• Paul Pierce creates a foul on Marvin Williams. Lazy defense by the Hawks there. Pierce hits two more free throws to make it 31-26. Josh Smith drives and creates contact to get a foul called on Boston. Hawks go up 31-26.
• Zaza Pachulia always looks like he just finished a game of Dizzy Bat.
• End of one, Hawks up 32-26. Pierce and KG have a combined 18 points and are carrying Boston. Josh Smith has 13 points by himself. He’s also playing smart ball and staying out of foul trouble.
• Posey misses to start the second. The Hawks have JJ and Josh Smith on the bench, which doesn’t bode well.
• Horford misses a long two and Zaza stumbles over for the offensive rebound. The Hawks reset and Zaza tries to hit Childress on a cut, but the ball is knocked loose. Zaza flops to the floor and PJ Brown picks up a foul, as a chuckle arises for the press table. Damn Cassell comes back and scores to make it 32-28.
• Childress scores and Cassell misses his first midrange jumper since signing with Boston.
• Big Baby checks in. Hey Hey Hey!
• Weird. Marvin pushes the ball in transition and hits Chillz for a lay-in, and Violet Palmer calls a foul on Posey. I will take it. Damn Cassell scores to make it 36-30 with 8:43. JJ and Smooth are still on the bench, so Woody is stealing minutes. Like it.
• Horford is on track for a triple double, with 4 pts, 5, rbs, and 4 assists.
• Out of the timeout, Zaza walks with the ball. Josh Smith walks even faster to the scorer’s table to check in.
• Horford picks up his second foul, so Zaza stays in. Celts are still using their second unit. Big Baby tosses Marvin Williams into the basket support and somehow a foul is called on Josh Smith. KG is back and he misses a short jumper.
• Joe Johnson wets an open three. Hawks go up 39-33. Joe drills another one from the wing to make it 42-33.
• KG answers with a reluctant two. Watch how Big Baby sets picks — he just runs over and attacks defenders like they’re drenched in BBQ sauce. There’s no way anyone’s slipping that pick.
• Timeout on the floor, a timeout with the score: Hawks 42, Celtics 35. During the timeout, Hawks reserve Solomon Jones is totally into the Kiss Cam segment shown on the scoreboard. James Posey and Kendrick Perkins are the last guys featured on the Kiss Cam.
• Out of the timeout, Big Baby is caught hanging out in the lane for a defensive three seconds. I think he was watching a cotton candy salesman. Then, after the Hawks make the technical, Big Baby flattens Bibby and sends him to the line, where he makes one. Hawks up 44-35.
• Ray Allen! He nails a long two. Haven’t heard much from him tonight. Josh Smith and KG get tangled up for a jump ball. KG then starts woofing at the photographers in the front row.
• KG gets fouled by Zaza and makes both free throws. 44-40, Hawks, with 4:10 to go. I think Mike Woodson forgot that Al Horford is on the bench.
• Yes! Zaza picks up his third foul! That means Horford gets to come back in. He has two fouls. Ray Allen to the line for two free throws –good, good. 44-42, Hawks. Slip sliding away. We can’t get stuck in this halfcourt game.
• Josh Smith pulls up for a long 2 and drains it as I yell, No! KG comes back and gets a dunk after hooking Josh Smith (no call).
• Big Baby attacks Horford like he’s an all you can eat buffet. Three fouls on Big Baby. Maybe during timeouts the Hawks should rub raw meat on Zaza and then have him run out and away from the action to distract Big Baby.
• T.I. is in the building, as well as Young Jeezy. They then show a close up of an usher on the scoreboard and call out, “Usher!” Pretty funny.
• Hawks ahead 48-44. Rondo swishes a long three. Marvin attacks the basket and Perkins leaves his feet and collides to send Marv to the line. He knows when to hold ’em. Hawks go up 50-46 with 2:10 to go in the half, and Horford and JJ take the bench for Solomon Jones and Josh Childress. Um…
• Right away Jones swats Perkins but a foul is called. Perk hits ’em both. Ray Allen then attacks and tries to dunk on Josh Smith, who blocks the dunk but the ball squirts into the basket. Tie game, 50-all. Bibby then gets fouled and makes one, 51-50. I don’t know why Horford and Joe are on the bench. Fitting that the score is 51-50, though.
• Bibby messes that up with a three, 54-50. Then Solomon Jones picks up his second foul. KG goes to the line and nails both. 54-52.
• Hawks try to go inside to Solomon Jones, who treats the ball like it’s on fire. Ray Allen gets a breakaway dunk to tie it at 54. KG cherry-picks and gets a dunk to make it 56-54, Celts. Marvin Williams gets a layup to tie it at the half. Rondo refuses to try a fullcourt shot with 2 seconds left because he doesn’t want to screw up his percentages.
• OK, tied at 56 at the half. There’s some kind of drama with the refs at the scorer’s table delaying the start of the second half. Strange. KG has 19 at the half but Ray Allen and Big Baby are tied for the rebounding lead with 3 apiece. The hawks have 15 from Josh Smith and 13 from Joe Johnson. Horford has 5 boards and Bibby has 6 assists and 5 points.
• The clocks over the basket appear to be out. This is awesome. The second half starts with the clocks over the basket turned off. The Celts miss a shot and the Hawks get the rebound and head up court, and then the buzzer goes off and everything stops again. Then they re-start and Bibby drains a three.
• I think the delay was a ploy by Mike Woodson to get the Celts cooled off. It would be hilarious if the cameras caught Zaza behind the basket fiddling with the wires.
• KG misses a jumper and Josh Smith hits Marvin Iwlliams for an open two. Meanwhile the shot clocks are still out, so when it hits 10 seconds or 5 seconds, PA announcer Ryan Cameron has to say it over the PA system. KG gets a layup and one, then jaws at Marvin Williams. KG hits the free throw to make it 61 all with 9:43 to go.
• Marv gets a dunk off a Bibby miss. Celts going through KG every time down now. He misses a hook shot and then Joe Johnson gets fouled by Ray Allen. Hawks go ahead 65-61. I’m not sure this is actually happening.
• Pierce wets a three. That totally just happened. 65-64, Hawks. Then Pierce drives and gets bumped by Marv. He’s the only player in the game with 3 fouls. KG bricks another short jumper.
• Perkins just got his third on a bail-put call from Violet Palmer. Horford hits one of two and the Hawks lead 66-64.
• Perk dunks on nobody to tie it at 66. Pierce misses a three and the Hawks get an athletic double-pump layup from Josh Smith. Then Horford flattens KG and talks to him as he lays on the ground. Not sure I’d want to get him riled up. Horford then hits a hook over Perk for a 70-68 lead.
• Boston goes back to KG and he doesn’t want to shoot it, then Perk gets a rebound and Josh Childress fouls him but no call is made. Hawks throw it ahead to Josh Smith for a vicious dunk. Then the Hawks run an awkward fast break and Horford kinda muscles in a short two. Philips Arena comes as close to exploding as I’ve ever heard it. Hawks go ahead 74-68 with 4:51 to go in the third and the Celts have to burn a timeout. If I’m Doc Rivers, I’m putting Damn Cassell in right now to provide some offense.
• Checking the box score, and right now the Boston bench are all pluses on the plus/minus and the starters are all minuses. Meanwhile, Horford’s got a +14 rating thus far.
• Thankfully, Damn Cassell doesn’t check in. Out of the timeout the Celtics run a nice play but Perk misses a dunk (may have been fouled again by Childress). The Hawks come back down and Joe Johnson drills a 3. 77-68, Hawks.
• KG gets fouled up top by Josh Smith and makes both free throws. 77-70, Hawks. Into Horford again, who finally misses a jumper.
• James Posey drives and crashes into Josh Smith and a charge is called. That might be the first charge Josh has taken all month. Hawks come back and end up whittling down the invisible shot clock to 4 seconds, then taking a timeout.
• 3:06 left in the third. JJ has 18 and Bibby has 8 pts and 7 assists. KG has 25 and 7. The Celts are forcing Atlanta to play halfcourt ball, but the Hawks are just out-executing them. They’re also going to Horford more than usual and trying to take advantage of Perkins’ inability to stick with him tonight.
• “Living On A Prayer” blasts coming out of the timeout. We got to hold on to what we got, brother. Horford nails an 18-footer. 79-70.
• Rondo tries a reverse layup that Josh Smith blocks off the floor and into the fourth row. Good grief. It bounces so high in the air that the invisible shot clock runs out before it hits the ground. Doc Rivers starts yelling at Bennett Salvatore about something. He’s probably mad that Jocks and Jills hasn’t expanded to Europe yet.
• The Celts run out the shot clock again and KG shoves J-Smoove. That’s 3 on KG.
• Uh-oh, Damn Cassell In the house. 79-70, Hawks, 1:40 to go. Joe Johnson nails a 3 from the corner, then the Celts miss a three and Josh Smith fires a pass off Horford’s hands and out of bounds. Hawks up 82-70.
• Baby, ba-by! Big Baby drives around Josh Smith for 2 and break the Boston drought. Then Zaza collides with him and takes away his submarine sandwich. Foul on Big Baby. Zaza to the line and he makes both.
• Because there’s under 10 seconds in the quarter, Mario West checks in, as does Solomon Jones. Somehow Solo ends up guarding Rondo, who zips past him for an easy layup at the buzzer. Nice recognition by the Celts. But then, our third-string center was guarding their fastest player.
• After three, the Hawks lead 84-74. Boston was 5/21 in the quarter. Wow. Hope they keep that up. The shot clocks are still not working, which would seem to be to our advantage. I’m told ESPN is giving a split-screen to show Ryan Cameron calling out the 24-second clock.
• Sticking with the ’80s music thus far, Kenny Loggins takes us right into the danger zone as the fourth quarter starts.
• To start the fourth, JJ nails a leaning jumper with the imaginary shot clock running out. The Celts miss, the Hawks get a 3-second violation. Can we just end the game now? What if we reset the clock to like 3 minutes and didn’t tell anyone?
• Ray Allen makes a nice running layup but Violet Palmer calls an offensive foul. I couldn’t see it from where I am but I’m guessing she missed the call. The Hawks then turn it over and Ray Allen fires up an airball. Then Josh Smith catches at the three point line and I yell NO! twice, but he rips the three. Then KG scores. 89-76. All of a sudden, people are down all over the place. Zaza falls on his back, Posey tumbles forward, Josh Childress loses a shoe. Weird stuff going on. Timeout Hawks so Chillz can put his shoe back on. 9:04 to go and the Hawks are up 89-76. I’m scared.
• Out of the timeout, the Hawks get a miss and the Celts get a three. 89-79. Then Josh Smith jumps from outside the lane and tomahawks on Ray Allen. I can’t believe I just saw that.
• 91-79 with 7:12 to go. Josh drills a three next time down. 94-79 with 6:58 to go. Josh’s upcoming contract is going through the roof right now. He better ask me to sit in his locker before every game from now on. Cheerleaders and dancers invade the floor, as well as a person in a penguin costume, for some reason.
• Are we watching Mike Woodson save his job right now? What about Billy Knight?
• The shot clock decides to come back on. Crap.
• Damn Cassell misses a jumper out of the timeout. Then Joe Johnson forces and misses a three over KG. At least that took 24 seconds. My man Micah Hart says the Hawks outscored Boston 38023 without a shot clock. Posey drains a three. 94-82, with 5:52 to go. Hawks run the shot clock down again and lose it out of bounds after 24 second. Good grief.
• Rondo hits a fadeaway to make it 10 and the crowd comes alive. Josh Smith shoots an airball from three. 4:42 to go. Rondo gets called for an offensive foul in the post. That was the best play of the last two minutes for Hawks fans.
• Out of the timeout the Hawks run the clock down and Bibby hits a floater. 96-84. Josh Smith steals an entry pass and the Hawks run it down again and get an offensive board off a miss. They run the clock down again and Bibby nails a runner on the left wing. Doc Rivers looks upset. Hawks are ahead 98-86 with 2:47 to go. Come on, clock! I’m cheering for the clock more than I am the Hawks at this point.
• Smoove and JJ have combined for 50 points. KG has a quiet 28 (including 10-11 from the free throw line) and a -13 rating. My pick for Rookie of the Year, Al Horford has 13 and 13.
• Out of the T.O., the Hawks miss a runner and the Celts miss a three, the Horford hits another runner. KG hits an amazing spinning bank shot to make it 100-88. Pierce hits a three and it’s 100-91 with 1:07 left. Oh boy.
• Bibby misses an ill-advised three and KG gets a dunk with 46 seconds left. 100-93.
• As the shot clock runs down, Horford nails a jumper and then kinda yells at Pierce. If KG did that it would considered leadership and lots of fun. Luckily Horford doesn’t get a T. Hawks up 102-93 with 22.2 left. The Celts take a timeout so they can get the air conditioning running on the bus.
• Wow. Wow. Wow. Hawks win, 102-93. In the locker room afterwards, Marvin asked me what song it was he was singing before the game. I reminded him it was “The Gambler.”
As I walked to the press room to file these notes, I could hear Marv singing…
“You got to know when to hold ’em…”