The best rivalry in the NBA is in fact not Warriors vs Cavaliers, Warriors vs Clippers, Celtics vs Lakers, or any of those others that might come to mind. As of this season, the best rivalry in the NBA is Hawks vs. Celtics. The modern rivalry began last season in a fantastic 6-game first round series in the playoffs. Not only was it a competitive series, but also Dennis Schröder and Isaiah Thomas had a few scuffles that elevated it to another level. Then over the summer Al Horford solidified the rivalry when he left Atlanta for Boston. In two meeting this season, the rivalry has not disappointed, and it is beginning to get the recognition it deserves.
The first game matchup was in Philips Arena, Horford’s return to Atlanta. The Celtics dominated the first half, but the Hawks fought hard to get back into the game. Mike Dunleavy came up clutch in his first game as a Hawk. But, Isaiah Thomas hit the game winner to silence the crowd, which may have been the loudest Philips Arena has ever heard. The building was absolutely electric, being there felt like you were part of an epic rivalry. But unfortunately for Atlanta, Boston just eked out a win.
Last night, however, was a much different story. This time in TD Gardens the matchup was the most aggressive it has been. Dwight Howard was ejected after shoving Al Horford, then lingering on the rim a bit too long after a dunk. Kelly Olynyk was also given a technical, and there was no shortage of little skirmishes popping up throughout the game. After a very competitive first half, the Hawks came out and took over the game in the second half. Dwight Howard was ejected with the Hawks up by nine, and rather than folding, this gave the Hawks extra motivation to win. They outscored the Celtics by nine in the third quarter to take a 13-point lead into the 4th quarter. The final quarter was not much different as the Hawks cruised to a 16-point victory in one of the toughest environments in the NBA.
A side which will no doubt make Hawks fans smile; Isaiah Thomas had 43 straight 20 point games coming into this matchup, the longest streak in Celtics history. He ended this game with 19 points on 4-21 shooting to break the streak. The Hawks played suffocating defense on Thomas, the likes of which he has rarely faced this season. The Hawks now have road wins against Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Oklahoma City, and Houston, basically all of the top teams in the NBA besides the Warriors and Spurs. They lost to the Warriors by just five at Oracle Arena, a pretty impressive feat, and they have yet to play the Spurs on the road, but they did beat them in Atlanta. This Hawks team has so many quality wins, it is hard not to wonder if they can make some real noise in the playoffs; quite possibly against the Celtics.