Maybe that window for the Boston Celtics is closing. Maybe they are too old to win a championship. But the window remains open and they were not too old to defeat the Atlanta Hawks Thursday night, 83-80, to take the series 4-2.
Kevin Garnett was the catalyst for the Celtics, amassing 28 points and 14 rebounds and hitting a jumper to give Boston the lead with 31 seconds left. It was an advantage the Hawks did not overcome. And so, the Celtics will play the Philadelphia 76ers, who eliminated East No. 1 seed Chicago in six games with a 79-78 victory earlier Thursday.
Playing on a sprained knee, Paul Pierce had 18 points and Rajon Rondo contributed 14 points and eight assists.
It was a difficult-to-take defeat for the Hawks, who had home court advantage to open the series. Not only that, but they took Game 1 and Rondo was suspended for Game 2 because of bumping an official. Instead of handling Boston without its floor general, the Hawks lost. Boston simply won its home games to advance.
Josh Smith had 19 points and nine rebounds for Atlanta, which failed to advance in the playoffs for the first time in four years. Joe Johnson had 17 points, Marvin Williams added 16 and eight rebounds and Al Horford had 15 points and nine rebounds.
But Horford missed the first of two foul shots with 2.3 seconds left after he was tackled by Marquis Daniels to avoid an easy dunk that would have tied the game. After he made the second, the Celtics got the ball to Pierce, who was fouled. He made both free throws.
The Celtics series against the 76ers begins Saturday in Boston. The Hawks’ vacation began Thursday night.