BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett
had a night for the ages.
Now the Boston Celtics
are preparing for a throwback playoff matchup.
Garnett capped an incredible performance with a turnaround jumper in the lane with 30.4 seconds left to push Boston ahead for good, lifting the Celtics to a series-clinching 83-80 win over the Atlanta Hawks
in Game 6 of their playoff series on Wednesday night.
"If you guys are calling me old, keep doing it, that's fuel for the fire," Garnett said. "It does come off as a little disrespectful. I put a lot of effort into my game."
It certainly showed for the soon-to-be 36-year old Garnett, who scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
He found another energy source, as well. Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. called Garnett the "dirtiest player in the league" during a speech earlier Wednesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
"First I want to say ‘thank you' to the Hawks' owner for giving me some extra juices tonight," Garnett said, opening his press conference. "Just because you have a bunch of money doesn't mean you get to open your mouth."
Rajon Rondo had 14 points and eight assists for the Celtics, who will host Philadelphia in Game One of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday night.
It matches the Eastern Conference's two premier teams of the 1980s. Larry Bird vs. Dr. J. in the early part or Bird-Barkley later in the decade.
But Boston certainly wouldn't be preparing for Philly without Garnett's splendid showing.
"He was just phenomenal," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "He bailed us out. Ray (Allen) certainly didn't have his legs. I've never seen him miss so many free throws. Paul struggled." Josh Smith
led the Hawks with 18 points, Joe Johnson had 17, Marvin Williams 16 and Al Horford
, who sparked a late comeback, had 15. Smith and Horford each had nine boards.
"KG was an all-star tonight," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "He made some big shots and timely shots."
Garnett's jumper gave Boston a late 80-79 edge.
After Smith missed a long jumper, Allen grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made just one free throw and finished the series just 8 for 14, 57 percent. Allen shot 91.5 percent from the free-throw line in the regular season.
Atlanta then had two chances in the closing seconds after Allen's free throw.
On the second, Horford was fouled, missed the first free throw, but hit the second with 2.3 seconds left.
The Celtics then inbounded the ball to Paul Pierce, who was fouled and nailed both from the line to seal it. Pierce finished with 18 points and seven assists.
"The one thing about the Celtics, man, those guys know how to win," Williams said. "They're very well coached and they really play well together."
Atlanta, which was held to just two points in the opening six minutes of the final quarter, trailed by nine with just less than nine minutes to play before turning it around. It went on a 14-2 scoring spree over a 4:30 stretch.
Horford keyed the run with eight points, giving them a 77-76 edge with a basket with 2:23 to play.
The Hawks had trailed by two (67-65) before Garnett took the game over, scoring six in the Celtics' 7-0 run that gave them a nine-point edge on his turnaround with 8:44 to play.
The Hawks called timeout and Afrojack's 'Take Over Control' played over the sound system, perfectly fitting for what Boston's veteran had just done.
But Atlanta wasn't quite done.
"You've got to give Atlanta a lot of credit," Rivers said. ``They could have gone away like 10 times. They put the pressure on us."
In the third quarter, Boston maintained between a six- and eight-point edge until Jeff Teague and Williams nailed consecutive 3s, closing the gap to 53-51 midway into the period.
The Celtics scored 12 of the next 18 points, pulling to a 65-57 lead on Allen's 3-pointer from the left corner -- his only basket of the game. But Johnson nailed consecutive 3s for the Hawks -- both coming in front of Boston's bench -- as Atlanta closed the gap to two before Rondo nailed a jumper at the buzzer, giving the Celtics a 67-63 edge entering the final quarter.
Boston led 47-41 at halftime.
With their outside shots failing them, the Celtics -- behind Rondo and Pierce -- started driving to the basket.
Trailing 28-20, Boston went on a 21-3 run over a 5:16 period, with Rondo and Pierce each getting a pair of driving layups while the Celtics clamped down on the Hawks defensively.
The start was nothing like Boston's last game at home, when the Celtics came out red-hot from the floor. The Celtics hit just 35 percent of their attempts (seven of 20) in the opening quarter Thursday after nailing 67 percent in the previous home game.
In the misses were a number of flat-looking jumpers from Allen and Pierce.
NOTES: Pierce played despite spraining his left medial collateral ligament before Game 4. "He's a scorer, and it makes it tough," Rivers said before the game. "We just have to figure out the most effective way for him to be effective, and the only way to do that is to play." ... Horford, a surprise starter and key player in the Hawks' win in Game 5 with 19 points and 11 rebounds, started for the second consecutive game. He hadn't started since Jan. 11 because of torn left pectoral muscle. ... Smith entered the night leading the playoffs with an average of 14.8 rebounds per game.
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- Kevin Garnett
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