ATLANTA — Here are five things to glean from the Hawks’ 123-111 victory over the Celtics in double overtime, a monumental comeback (Atlanta once trailed by 27 points) that might someday rank as the most storied, single-game turnaround in franchise history.
1. Kyle Korver finally has visual proof of his long-range brilliance
On the same night the Hawks shot a woeful 8 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, Korver (27 points, six rebounds, four assists) miraculously caught fire in the second half, burying a career-high eight triples and fueling Atlanta’s signature victory of the season.
Whether running flare cuts off multiple screens or demonstrating a hair-trigger release after shaking free from defenders, Korver vaulted the Hawks to an amazing 21-2 run in the opening minutes of the third quarter, quickly vanquishing the Celtics’ 19-point halftime lead. Prior to Friday’s explosion, Korver hadn’t connected on eight triples since his college days — when Creighton fell to Xavier on Dec. 31, 2002, a non-conference clash that strangely had no TV audience.
“Kyle Korver was in the zone,” said Hawks head coach Larry Drew. “It seemed like everything he was throwing up was going in. I was just trying to draw up plays to get the ball in his hands.”
In the postgame scrum, Korver modestly played down his hot streak, as if it was a ho-hum night of four or five three-pointers made.
“It was just a good shooting night,” said Korver. “It was one of those things, when you make some shots, you get better screens and you get better passes … it just happens.”
2. Atlanta actually benefited from having a thin bench
Quirky things will happen to clubs over the course of an 82-game season. But when pouring over the details of Friday night, it’s hard to reconcile how Atlanta rallied from a 27-point hole and subsequently rolled for 123 points against Boston — with just five players (Korver, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Devin Harris) accounting for the lion’s share of minutes.
Aside from that quintet, only Ivan Johnson (11 points) tallied more than two points for the Hawks.
With the season-ending knee injury to Lou Williams (last week) and cold-shooting night from reserve Jannero Pargo (Monday’s unsung hero), the trio of Korver, Teague (23 points, seven assists) and Harris (14 points) ostensibly had to carry the Hawks’ backcourt for all 58 minutes.
And the frontcourt tandem of Horford (24 points, 13 rebounds) and Smith (17 points, 14 boards, seven assists) were under similar pressure to be dynamic throughout the evening — flourishing in the paint, despite little or no rest on the bench.
With the score knotted at 107 in double overtime, Smith ignited a 10-0 Atlanta run with a three-point play (free throw included), on the heels of a nimble offensive rebound. Roughly a minute later, after the Hawks thwarted an alley-oop pass to Celtics big man Kevin Garnett, Horford smoothly nailed a runner in the paint, boosting Atlanta’s lead to five and allowing the Philips Arena crowd of 15,595 to celebrate the improbable win.
Normally, it doesn’t make long-term sense for Horford and Smith to combine for 98 minutes in January … but that’ll just have to be a worry for another day. They were too busy winning a legacy game.
3. The Hawks brought new meaning to the term “ugly” in the first quarter
There’s something to be said about getting caught in Atlanta’s traffic snarl on a random Friday night.
A sizable chunk of Hawks (and Celtics) fans arrived to Philips five or six minutes into the game, only to be surprised by Boston’s lightning-fast, double-digit lead. And for those who missed the entire first stanza, they were greeted by a scoreboard reading of 29-10 — the result of countless open jumpers for the Celtics … and a slew of squandered chances for the Hawks.
For the quarter, Atlanta connected on only four of 23 shots (0 for 7 from three-point range). The overall tally included Ivan Johnson’s 3/4-court dribble drive/layup on the Hawks’ opening possession — perhaps the first time in Johnson’s basketball career (pro, college, youth league) that he kick-started any game with a coast-to-coast conversion.
After that, things turned sour for the Hawks.
On one particular series, Harris misfired on a three-pointer. With the rebound still up for grabs, Josh Smith clanged a dunk attempt off the back rim. Horford then collected the rebound but missed a short jumper. After that, the Hawks snagged yet another offensive board but still had nothing to show for the extended possession.
A few minutes later, with the Hawks clinging to a 24-10 deficit, Smith rimmed out a pair of free throws. That emotional low point, momentarily silencing the boisterous crowd, soon paved the way for five more Boston points, capping one of Atlanta’s most futile stretches.
4. The Celtics should be grateful for the Lakers’ wretched play
From a national scope, it’s impossible to avoid nightly updates of the Lakers’ collective troubles. And yes, that’s a slight dig at ESPN, which apparently has trouble conceiving how an aging roster full of big-name, but declining veterans (excluding Kobe Bryant) would have difficulty keeping up with younger, faster and more cohesive teams in the West.
In turn, the Lakers’ misery has enabled the Celtics (20-23) to essentially fly under the national radar, with some dismissing Boston’s slow start as a low-tension preamble to the pressure-packed months of April, May and June. Especially when the Eastern Conference only boasts seven clubs with winning records (as of Jan. 25).
The Celtics’ free ride of low scrutiny may have ended on Friday, in the wake of blowing a huge lead to the Hawks (25-18) and posting their sixth straight defeat.
“When you have teams down (by 27), you have to step on them and finish the game,” said Garnett, who notched 24 points and 10 boards in 38 minutes. “We can’t rely on our past (one title, two NBA Finals appearances since 2008). The past is just that — the past. It’s about now.”
Garnett added: “(This loss) is frustrating. There are a lot of ups and down and peaks and valleys in a season, but this is the time for us to stick together and fight through this.”
5. True relevance can be found in seemingly innocuous stats
Just before the first half ended, five Celtics reserves (Jeff Green, Jason Collins, Jared Sullinger, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry) incredibly had double-digit plus-minus ratios against the Hawks … with none of the Boston starters meriting such an honor.
And that included Rajon Rondo (-20 rating) and his eventual triple double.
With metrics like that, it’s easier to rationalize how everything changed in the final 34 minutes.