Smith provides Hawks new life

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ATLANTA --- Led by high-flying Josh Smith, the Atlanta Hawks finally showed they can beat the Boston Celtics.

Hawks forward Josh Smith (left) soars past two Celtics defenders during the first quarter Saturday night. Smith scored 27 points in Atlanta's surprising win.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Hawks forward Josh Smith (left) soars past two Celtics defenders during the first quarter Saturday night. Smith scored 27 points in Atlanta's surprising win.

Good timing.

Smith scored 27 points -- and give him a perfect 10 in his own personal dunking contest -- to lead the Hawks to a 102-93 victory Saturday night that breathed life into their long-shot playoff hopes, cutting Boston's lead in the opening-round series to 2-1.

Atlanta earned its first playoff win since May 16, 1999, a Game 5 clincher over the Detroit Pistons. The Hawks were swept by New York in the next round, then spent nine long years trying to get back to the postseason.

After getting blown out twice in Boston, Smith and the Hawks seemed to take out all their frustrations on a 66-win Celtics team that finished 29 games ahead of eighth-seeded Atlanta during the regular season. When the buzzer sounded, streamers fell from the ceiling of Philips Arena as if the home team had just won a championship.

The Hawks, who went 37-45 during the regular season, are still huge underdogs. But for one night at least, Smith had the rim rockin' and the sellout crowd of 19,725 on its feet.

Smith, one of the NBA's most athletic players, showed it off with five dunks -- none better than the last one.

After a Boston turnover, Joe Johnson took off down the right side of the court and passed off to Smith breaking down the other wing. He took off a good 10 feet from the basket and slammed it through over Ray Allen.

With the crowd still buzzing over that one, Smith pulled up behind the arc and hit a 3-pointer that gave the Hawks a 94-79 lead with just under 7 minutes left.

Johnson added 23 points and Mike Bibby -- who riled up the Boston faithful with his comments about "fair-weather" fans --- bounced back from two dismal games by doling out eight assists. Showing much better ball movement and a willingness to run with the Celtics, the Hawks improved from 10 assists in Game 2 to 28 on Saturday.

Kevin Garnett led Boston with 32 points, but the NBA's youngest playoff team had him kneeling over, looking totally exhausted, by the end of the game.

The Celtics had manhandled Atlanta all year, beating the Hawks three times during the regular season -- none of the games was closer than 10 points -- then routing them twice in Boston by an average margin of 21 points to start this series.

CELTICS VS. HAWKS


Best-of-seven series, Boston leads 2-1


GAME 1: Boston 104, Atlanta 81


GAME 2: Boston 96, Atlanta 77


GAME 3: Atlanta 102, Boston 93


MONDAY: Boston at Atlanta, 8 p.m.


WEDNESDAY: Atlanta at Boston, TBA


FRIDAY: Boston at Atlanta, TBA, if necessary


MAY 4: Atlanta at Boston, TBA, if necessary


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