ATLANTA - The Celtics have used the word "ubuntu" as their team motto all season. The South African word is defined as unity for the greater good. And while unity has been a strength for the Celtics all season, there wasn't the usual ubuntu last night as they suffered their first postseason loss.
The Celtics were beaten, 102-93, by the underdog Hawks in front of a sold-out and boisterous crowd at Philips Arena last night in Game 3 of a first-round playoff series. The Eastern Conference's top-seeded Celtics now hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series over the eighth-seeded Hawks. There will be a Game 5 in Boston Wednesday. Atlanta beat Boston for the first time in six tries this season.
"We didn't help each other on offense and we didn't help each other on defense," guard Ray Allen said. "We still had plays, we made plays. But just the typical Celtic basketball that we played all year, we always helped each other on both ends of the floor. Tonight, we didn't do a great job of it."
The Hawks won their first playoff game since May 16, 1999, against Detroit. The Hawks received 27 points from Josh Smith and 23 from Joe Johnson.
"It's a fantastic feeling and it couldn't have happened to a better bunch of guys," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "For this to happen for the City of Atlanta and our fans that supported us and have been with us all season, it's unbelievable."
Said Smith: "The [first] two games we played against Boston were blowout games. And I'm sure the Celtics thought the series was over."
Boston forward Kevin Garnett scored a game-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. The Celtics shot 44.4 percent from the field and missed 11 of 17 3-pointer attempts. The game was knotted at 56 at halftime. But after the Celtics were outscored, 28-18, in the third quarter, the Hawks seemed to cruise the rest of the way. Boston shot 23.8 percent from the field in the third while Atlanta shot 52.6 percent.
"I told the guys after the game that I thought each guy wanted to win the game by themselves, which you can't do," coach Doc Rivers said. "I like the fact that they wanted to win the game. The only way you're going to do that is as a team.
"Even in the end you saw Rajon [Rondo] try to back Mike Bibby down [and got a foul]. That's not what we do, but that's what they all did. Rajon tried to win the game for us. Ray wanted to win the game for us. Paul [Pierce] wanted to win the game for us. But we have to win it as a group and that's how it always has to be."
If the television timeouts weren't long enough, the second half was delayed because a shot clock over one basket was not working. To make it fair, officials turned the clock off over the other basket. The public address announcer gave notice on the shot clock and air horns were also used for the buzzer. The problem wasn't fixed until there was nearly 7 minutes remaining in the game.
The Celtics had a 24-second clock violation in the third that caused Garnett and Rivers to complain to one of the referees.
"That was a little bit difficult," Garnett said. "
The Hawks went up 15 points, 89-74, after a 3-pointer by Smith with 10:05 left in the fourth quarter. James Posey's 3-pointer with 8:26 left trimmed the deficit to 89-79. Smith's 3-pointer pushed Atlanta up, 94-79, with 7:02 remaining.
Rondo's jumper with 5:20 remaining brought Boston within 10, 94-84, with 5:20 left. Pierce's 3-pointer trimmed the deficit to 100-91 and Garnett's made it 100-93. But Horford's 17-foot jumper with 22.2 seconds remaining gave the Hawks a 102-93 lead and sealed the game.
"We came in down 0-2, but we knew when we came back home we are pretty good here," Johnson said. "And when we came out of the tunnel it got our adrenaline rushing. I have not seen a crowd that electric since I've been here."
Said Garnett: "It's disappointing, but it's the nature of the beast if you will. They are at home. They play real well here. We anticipated that. We beat them [soundly] the first two games so at some point you expect them to make some adjustments."
Tomorrow night will be big for both teams. A win for Celtics means they can wrap the series up Wednesday at home. A win for underdog Atlanta, and the series is changed dramatically.
"Monday's a big game for us, that's just what it is," Garnett said. "Monday's going to be a huge game . . . [Today] is a work day to prepare to win this game Monday."
Said Johnson: "We are not satisfied. We have to win on our home court and we look forward to it."