The measuring stick is back. ``It's a big game for us because I'm interested to see how we match up against (what) I think is the best team in the NBA,'' Hawks coach Mike Woodson said before last night's game against the Celtics at the Garden.
``I like everything that they've done. Their offseason moves, bringing (Marquis) Daniels and Rasheed (Wallace) over and Shelden (Williams). They defend and they can score the ball. They do all the things that championship teams do. It's going to be interesting to see how we fare tonight against this team.''
The Hawks, off to a 6-2 start, didn't exactly come slouching through the door. The offseason additions of Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith, in particular, added some serious glue to their bench.
But those additions were simply Atlanta's attempt to keep pace with the class of the league.
``I just think when you assemble guys that know how to play, and they have four All-Stars on this team, it don't take long to figure it out,'' Woodson said of the additions to the Celtics . ``Sometimes it can easily go the other way, but I think Doc (Rivers, Celts coach) has done an excellent job, he and his staff, in terms of putting all these All-Stars together and making it work, because it's not a given that it will work. But it's worked for them.'' Again, the opposing coach had to learn that lesson after his team took the early lead - in last night's case, a 14-6 edge.
But with Kevin Garnett hitting all four of his first-quarter shots for the C's and the bench stringing together an 8-0 run in the final 2:24 of the period, the Hawks ended up with just a 24-22 lead at the start of the second.
That advantage changed hands five times during the first four minutes of that period, before Eddie House followed up a Daniels three-point play that gave the Celtics a sliver of room at 32-28.
But the Hawks were in as much of a rhythm as the Celtics .
They cut the margin to one point on three separate occasions before finally taking the lead back at 37-36 on Joe Johnson's 15-foot banker over three Celtics .
Johnson came back off the break to give Atlanta a 39-36 lead, only for the Celtics to take it right back with a 6-0 run.
Marvin Williams ended the spurt with a layup, and the Hawks had one last chance to do damage with 10 seconds left.
But this time Johnson put up a 10-foot air ball in traffic.
Rajon Rondo scooped up the rebound with the clock running down and launched a heave from midcourt that bounced off the front of the rim.
The Celtics , shooting 48.7 percent from the field, had a 42-41 lead at the break.
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