Instead of taking the Mike Bibby approach, the Celtics let their game speak loudly for them last night.
They routed the Atlanta Hawks, 96-77, in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series at a sold-out TD Banknorth Garden. The top-seeded Celtics lead the best-of-seven series, 2-0. The next two games are in Atlanta, with Game 3 Saturday.
"Obviously, we love the win and I think our guys played with great effort tonight throughout the game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I don't think we played great all game, but our effort was great all game."
Bibby drew their ire by calling them "bandwagon jumpers" and "fair-weather" before Tuesday's practice.
The Garden faithful responded by heckling and booing Bibby from introductions until he left the game with 3:43 remaining.
Although Bibby smiled when he was heckled during the first quarter, Celtics guard Ray Allen believed Bibby was bothered by the crowd in the fourth when he twice missed 1 of 2 free throws. Bibby finished with 12 points on 2-of-7 shooting and eight free throws, 1 assist, and 1 turnover in 28 minutes. Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who had a game-high 19 points and was given his Defensive Player of the Year Award before the game, described Bibby's comments about Celtics fans as "crazy."
"I heard them," said Bibby, who is shooting 23.5 percent (4 for 17) in the series. "I knew it was going to happen. [The Celtics] played a good game. I'm not really worried about the crowd."
Allen, who had 15 points, including three 3-pointers, said: "That is what he had to deal with. This building gets loud enough. But he took it to another level."
The Hawks were limited to 38.3 percent shooting and missed all five of their 3-pointers. Atlanta was held to 10 assists and had 22 turnovers. No Hawk scored more than 13 points. Boston was up by as many as 24 points before cruising to the win, and had 15 steals. The Celtics' tough defense definitely came in handy as they shot just 41.7 percent and didn't have a player reach 20 points.
"We held them to 39 percent shooting tonight again," said Rajon Rondo, who had 12 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals. "I think that's excellent for us, for our team defense. Like I said, we want to keep improving. We watch the film as a team about five or six times. We are going to have the same approach next game, just trying to get better."
Said Bibby: "I didn't make anything happen for my team. We can't put the ball in the basket. They are making it tough for us on the strong side, we have to go back and watch film and see how they are playing us, and get easier shots for everybody else."
The biggest scare of the night for the Celtics came when Paul Pierce suffered a lower-back strain after being hit on a drive to the basket. With 10:38 remaining in the first quarter, Pierce was hit hard by Josh Smith, while also being fouled by Joe Johnson. Smith, however, didn't receive a flagrant foul. Pierce made 1 of 2 free throws afterward, and since play didn't stop, he wasn't replaced until the 9:45 mark.
"The back is a little sore," Pierce said. "Obviously, I took a hard hit in the first quarter. I'll get some treatment, rest it up for the next couple of days, and I think it should be fine."
The Celtics on the floor rushed toward Smith after the play. Rivers ran onto the floor and grabbed center Kendrick Perkins. There were no ejections. With 8:39 left in the fourth quarter, however, Celtics forward James Posey returned the favor with a hard foul on Smith that earned him a flagrant-1 foul.
"I don't want guys to start thinking that we're a pushover," said Perkins, who had 8 points and 9 rebounds in 23 minutes. "We aren't just taking all that nonsense. We're coming out here and we're men, too. I'd rather be the one in the middle of it than our superstar. That's just how it is."
Pierce returned to the game and finished with 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals in 28 minutes. And when he left the game with 3:01 remaining, the Celtics owned a comfortable 94-72 lead.
"We're not going to rest on our laurels, and we're going to go down to Atlanta and try to get two wins," Pierce said.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com