Garnett Powers Celtics Past Hawks in Clinching Game 6

Kevin Garnett shoots against Josh Smith during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Celtics and the Hawks, played Thursday night at TD Garden. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics have asked so much of Kevin Garnett this season. They’ve asked him to play with few days off and even fewer days for practice. They’ve asked him to play center on team without a shred of depth at the big-man positions.

And with the Celtics’ best chance to close out their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Atlanta Hawks coming in Game 6 Thursday night at TD Garden, they asked him to carry the team home.

The Celtics asked, and as he’s done all season long, Garnett answered. Garnett scored 28 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked five shots and stole three passes, helping the Celtics edge past the Hawks, 83-80, and clinch the series in six games.

Garnett’s turn-around jumper with 8:41 left in the fourth capped a 7-0 fourth-quarter run that pushed the Celtics’ lead to 74-65. Having already played Garnett for 35 minutes, Doc Rivers subbed out Garnett two minutes later.

The decision proved costly, as the Hawks went on a 10-2 over the next 1:42. Now free of Garnett’s pesky defense, center Al Horford fueled the charge with six points. He finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in a Herculean 46 minutes.

Garnett came back in with 3:51 to go, but even that couldn’t halt Atlanta’s run, as Josh Smith (18 points, nine rebounds) and Horford put the Hawks up 79-76 with two more unanswered baskets.

Needing something from someone other than Garnett, Paul Pierce cut the Hawks’ lead to one with a layup with just over two minutes left. Garnett capped two straight Celtics defensive stops with two emphatic rebounds, then put the Celtic back up 80-79 with another turn-around jumper.

The Celtics crushed the Hawks in the paint, out-scoring them 42-30. They also out-rebounded the Hawks by four, recording more offensive and defensive boards.

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Pierce, Rondo Help Celtics Crush Hawks in Game 4

Paul Pierce shoots against Jason Collins during Sunday's Game 4 of the Celtics-Hawks Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the TD Garden. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Atlanta Hawk Joe Johnson drained a jumper 19 seconds into Sunday’s Game 4 against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden.

The Hawks never led after that. What should have been a basketball game turned out to be a massacre.

Between Paul Pierce‘s lethal shooting and Rajon Rondo‘s mesmerizing passing, the Celtics crushed the Hawks, 101-79, taking a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Pierce Lights Up Hawks Early

Pierce only played about 16 minutes Sunday, but while on the court he couldn’t be stopped. The Hawks put as many as three players in Pierce’s face, and he still knocked down jumpers using his trademark step-back shot.

Doc Rivers didn’t have Pierce waste energy guarding Johnson on defense, and Pierce rewarded Rivers with 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He knocked down four three-pointers, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots.

Pierce scored 10 first-quarter points, including the Celtics’ first basket on the first of 16 assists from Rondo. Between Pierce’s penetration and Kevin Garnett‘s domination in the low post (13 points on 6-of-8 shooting), the Celtics built a 32-19 lead after one quarter. Pierce continued humiliating the Hawks in the second, hitting two more three-pointers without even noticing defenders around him.

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Pierce and Bradley Carry Celtics Past Magic, Clinch Fifth Straight Atlantic Title

Paul Pierce drives to the basket during Wednesday's Celtics-Magic game at the TD Garden. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Paul Pierce might be nearing the finish line of a career that will end in the Hall of Fame and a spot in the TD Garden rafters. But if these are Pierce’s last games, The Truth wants to go out in style.

Pierce scored a game-high 29 points and recorded a career-best 14 assists, carrying the Boston Celtics to a 102-98 victory over the Orlando Magic and their fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title Wednesday night at the TD Garden. Avery Bradley backed up Pierce with 23 points, tying his career-high.

With home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs locked up, the short-handed Celtics can now focus on rest and recovery. Ray Allen hasn’t played in over a week, and Rajon Rondo sat Wednesday with a lower back injury.

Pierce Holds Back Magic in Fourth

Up 79-70 heading into the fourth quarter, Boston built their lead as high as 13, but a combination of outside shooting by Jameer Nelson (21 points, 3-for-6 from downtown) and dominating play inside (54 points in the paint, 17 offensive rebounds without Dwight Howard) kept Orlando in the game. Orlando cut Boston’s lead to 92-90 with three minutes left before Pierce drew a foul and sank one of two.

A Glen Davis (27 points) steal and sprint to the basket – how many times has that ever been written? – made it 98-96 Celtics, setting up the play of the game. Pierce – who split ball-handling duties with Bradley Wednesday – brought the ball to the three-point line, nearly slipping and losing control of the ball.

With the shot-clock winding down, Pierce regained control and penetrated to just outside the foul line, hitting a 17-foot step-back jumper with 7.6 seconds left in the game. He also sank two free throws in the final seconds to maintain the two-possession lead.

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Celtics Twice Nearly Claimed Knicks’ Jeremy Lin Off Waivers

Had either of the Celtics' two waiver claims on the Knicks' Jeremy Lin gone through this offseason, he and Kevin Garnett would have been teammates instead of opponents. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Apparently, some dude on the Knicks is having a decent season. Jerry something-or-other. Played for Yale, I think.

Were he a Celtic, I might show more enthusiasm for point guard Jeremy Lin and the seven consecutive wins his team has rattled off since his move into the starting spot. And it appears I nearly got my wish… twice.

Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald reported Thursday that the Celtics twice submitted waiver claims for Lin when the Golden State Warriors cut him prior to the start of this season. The Houston Rockets claimed Lin ahead of the Celtics, cut him, and then the Knicks took him, again ahead of the Celtics. The rest is media-magnified history.

But oh, what might have been.

Lin Would Have Thrived in Boston

Though overall a feel-good story, Lin’s sudden success still bears a small shadow: the return of Carmelo Anthony. When Anthony returns, Lin will have to give back many of the 17-plus shots per night he’s averaged over the last seven games. The arrogant, needy Anthony will demand the ball whenever he’s on the court, and the humble Lin will probably give it away willingly.

If this works, the story dies. But if it fails, and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni has to take the ball away from Anthony, a schism could form in the locker room that derails a Knicks season that finally looks back on track.

Unlike the Knicks, the Celtics don’t play selfishly. Rajon Rondo usually passes to the open shooter, whoever that may be. While that doesn’t always work – there’s really no reason to ever pass to Jermaine O’Neal or Marquis Daniels – it creates a system that rewards humility and team effort over individual skill-sets.

Lin would have succeeded in such a system. He’s said that despite scoring 20 points or more in six of the last seven games, he still sees himself as a distributor. No one distributes like Rondo does, and Lin would have learned infinitely more about passing from Rondo than garbage Knicks guards like Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas.

Lin also would have provided a scoring threat off the bench, something the Celtics have especially lacked since the loss of Brandon Bass. Lin would have covered some of the scoring lost with Bass’ knee injury, and once healthy, Bass, Lin and Chris Wilcox would have found openings in just about any defense. Just as the Celtics’ starters dominate when they play complimentary basketball, so too would the second unit.

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Strong Start Powers Celtics to Second Preseason Win Over Raptors

Rajon Rondo shoots against the Toronto Raptors during Wednesday's preseason game at the TD Garden in Boston. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Doc Rivers gave his starters the first half of Wednesday’s home game against the Toronto Raptors, then turned it over to the bench.

The Boston Celtics bench played virtually the entire second half, maintaining a large first-half lead to beat the Raptors, 81-73.

A two-game preseason might not say much, but the Celtics finished theirs undefeated.

Rondo Runs the Offense, O’Neal the Defense

Missing Paul Pierce due to a heel injury, Rajon Rondo took over as the Celtics’ primary scoring threat. He set the offensive pace immediately, knocking down an 18-foot jumper to open the scoring, then doing it again from almost the same spot three minutes later to cap an 8-0 Celtics run to start the game.

Rondo’s second basket followed a block from Jermaine O’Neal – O’Neal’s second in the game’s opening four minutes. O’Neal may be the Celtics’ only center, but Wednesday night he showed he might have what it takes. The Raptors could never get an interior game going with O’Neal on the court, having to settle for long-range jumpers and three-pointers they couldn’t sink with much better than 30 percent accuracy.

Rondo and O’Neal hooked up again later in the first, with Rondo driving through the paint before kicking it out to O’Neal in the low post. O’Neal caught the pass, then in one motion fed it back to Rondo, whom the Raptors left under the basket. Rondo easily laid it in, putting the Celtics up 14-7.

Rondo finished the game with 17 points in 23 minutes. O’Neal didn’t score, but he blocked four shots and pulled down two rebounds in just 12 minutes.

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