Celtics deploy a Smart weapon as they level series against Hawks

BOSTON • Evan Turner called Boston Celtics team-mate Marcus Smart the best player on the court on Sunday at TD Garden.

He was probably right - after a National Basketball Association game in which Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap scored 45 points.

Smart scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds, handed out five assists and played great defence on Millsap, as the Celtics, down by 16 in the third quarter, evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round play-off series at 2-2 with a 104-95 overtime win.

Millsap scored only two points over the final 5:33 of regulation time and the entire overtime.

Smart, only the second player since 1992 to register at least 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists off the bench in an NBA play-off game, scored 11 consecutive points for the Celtics in the fourth quarter. He then opened the overtime with a pair of assists to Amir Johnson.

However, he preferred to give the credit to team-mate Isaiah Thomas, who hit the final five points of the game en route to 28 points.

MAKING IT COUNT

When I was that wide open and Isaiah (was) doing all that work, I had to make the shot.

MARCUS SMART, Boston Celtics reserve guard, on how his team-mate Isaiah Thomas helped him score 11 straight points in the fourth quarter as his team came from 16 points down to win in overtime.

Said Smart: "Isaiah did a heck of a job, the way they were guarding him, still being able to penetrate and find guys.

"I was one of the guys on the end of that. When I was that wide open and Isaiah (was) doing all that work, I had to make the shot."

Boston never trailed in overtime, during which Atlanta hit just one of their 11 shots.

In Auburn Hills, Michigan, guard Kyrie Irving capped off a brilliant beginning to this year's play-offs on Sunday by scoring 31 points to help the Cleveland Cavaliers earn a 100-98 win over the Detroit Pistons in Game 4 of a first-round Eastern Conference play-off series.

The Cavaliers completed a sweep of the best-of-seven series and advanced to the Eastern Conference semi-finals, where they await the winners of the series between the Hawks and Celtics.

Irving clearly is hungry and healthy at the moment, as he averaged 27.5 points in the series and outscored team-mate LeBron James, who averaged over 22 points a game in the series.

"This post-season is what we have been preparing for," Irving said.

"It's been a pretty good post-season so far."

Just as in Games 1 and 3 in the series, Detroit matched Cleveland for the entire game, but the Cavaliers had too much firepower and experience in the fourth to be denied.

Sunday also saw the end of the mis-match in the first-round play-off series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies when the Spurs took a two-point half-time lead and ended with a 116-95 victory and a 4-0 sweep.

"This is one of the best teams and one of the best coaches so they're like a machine," said Memphis forward Zach Randolph.

"You really can't turn the ball over or make mistakes."

The Grizzlies did both as the Spurs, who led by as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter, scored 18 points off 17 turnovers.

But Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had nothing but praise for the Grizzlies. "They played with a lot of heart and a lot of fortitude," he said.

"That will serve them well as they move forward next season. For our part, that physicality will help us in the next round."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Celtics deploy a Smart weapon as they level series against Hawks'. Print Edition | Subscribe