By DONNELL SUGGS and DEITRA P. JOHNSON (www.atlantadailyworld.com)
The Atlanta Hawks knew what they would be up against going into Boston’s TD Garden for a critical Game 6 of the Eastern Conference’s best-of-seven series – a nose-to-nose battle with a team composed of some of the league’s most talented players.
In the contest that ultimately ended Atlanta’s 2011-12 season on May 10, the Hawks were just three points away from extending the series to Game 7, but instead fell 83-80.
Celtics forward Kevin Garnett not only put his money where his mouth is by hitting the go-ahead jumper to cap a 28-point, 14-rebound performance to keep the rallying Hawks from victory, but also quieted earlier comments made by Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. on Thursday in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Call it “fanning the flames” before a game, but when Gearon labeled Garnett as “the dirtiest player in the game,” the Boston forward/center was especially motivated. He also had five blocks and three steals.
“First off I want to say thank you to the [Atlanta] owner for giving me some extra gas tonight, said Garnett afterward. “My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth, actually know what he’s talking about – Xs and Os versus checkbooks and bottom lines.
“Tonight was a situation where I felt I had match ups. I just took my shots and my opportunities when I had them,” Garnett continued.
Al Horford led the Hawks’ fourth-quarter comeback by scoring 11 of Atlanta’s 17 points during the period, and actually had a chance to tie the score at 81-all from the free-throw line with just 2.3 seconds remaining to play.
However, Horford, who also scored 17 second-half points to spearhead a Hawks win in Game 5, missed the front end of a two-shot foul called on Marquis Daniels. His second free-throw brought Atlanta to within one, 81-80.
With Atlanta forced to foul with 1.3 seconds remaining, Boston forward received two free throws and made both to give the Celtics a three-point lead that sealed the win.
Pierce scored 18 points while guards Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen had 14 and seven points, respectively.
The Hawks were led by Josh Smith’s 18 points, while Joe Johnson added 17, Marvin Williams had 16 and Horford finished with 15.