BOSTON — Call him old.
Call him dirty.
It just fires up Kevin Garnett even more — and that didn’t work out very well for the Atlanta Hawks in their first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics.
Upset by comments from a Hawks owner calling him “the dirtiest guy in the league,” Garnett responded with 28 points and 14 rebounds to give the Celtics an 83-80 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night that eliminated Atlanta.
“Thank you to their owner for giving me some extra gas tonight,” Garnett said. “My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth to know what he’s talking about with X’s and O’s vs. checkbooks and bottom lines.”
The Celtics will open the Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday in Boston against the Philadelphia 76ers, who eliminated East No. 1 seed Chicago in six games with a 79-78 victory earlier Thursday.
“At least we don’t have to travel,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who had hoped to be playing a day or two later. “I’d rather be going to Game 1 here than Game 7 in Atlanta.”
Garnett topped his regular-season high of 25 points and had five blocks and three steals for Boston. Paul Pierce had 18 points despite playing with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, and Rajon Rondo had 14 points and eight assists.
But Garnett, who turns 36 this month, was the star, defying age and a reputation that led Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. to say within earshot of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “They are old. I know what happens when you play basketball, old guys foul. Garnett is the dirtiest guy in the league.”
Garnett responded on the court, hitting a jumper with 31 seconds left to give Boston the lead for good.
Then he responded off it.
“I just found that comment to be a little rude and a little out of hand and I wanted to address it,” he said. “Just because you’ve got a lot of money doesn’t mean you can open your mouth.”
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 and made both free throws.
Boston has won at least one playoff series every year since the new Big 3 was assembled in the summer of 2007.
“The one thing about the Celtics is those guys know how to win,” Williams said. “After winning (Game 5) down in Atlanta with our backs against the wall, we knew it was going to be tough coming up here. I thought we did a really good job putting ourselves in position to win down the stretch.”
The Boston crowd burst into a cheer — even the Celtics players were checking it out — near the end of the third quarter when the final play of the Sixers-Bulls game was shown on the scoreboard. Instead of having to face Chicago on the road — even without injured star Derrick Rose — the Celtics will have home-court advantage against eighth-seeded Philadelphia.
The Hawks went 5 minutes without scoring early in the fourth quarter as the Celtics turned a two-point game into a 74-65 lead. But Atlanta scored 10 of the next 12 points, with Horford scoring the last three baskets, making it a one-point game on an alley-oop pass from Smith with 3:52 left.
Smith faked at the top of the key and went right down the lane for a dunk that gave Atlanta its first lead of the second half, 77-76. Horford drove to the basket to give the Hawks a three-point lead.
Atlanta still led 79-78 when Garnett made a turnaround jumper in the lane over Smith to put Boston ahead by one. Smith missed a long rainbow jumper and Ray Allen got the rebound with 10 seconds left, but he made only one of two free throws.
Johnson drove to the basket but Pierce blocked his shot and Garnett tipped it out of bounds with 3.1 seconds left. The Hawks got the ball to Horford in the lane but as he went up for the dunk or layup, Daniels, who played just one minute in the game, wrapped him up and kept him from scoring.
The first foul shot went off the rim, costing Atlanta a chance to tie.
Notes: Pierce injured the knee during Sunday morning’s shootaround and hurt it again when he tried to get around a screen set by Smith during Game 4 that night. … Rivers became just the third coach in Celtics’ history to record 50 postseason victories, joining Red Auerbach (90) and K.C. Jones (65) . New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was at the game. … The Hawks lost to the Celtics in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, a series that went seven games. Boston went on to win its NBA-record 17th championship. … Allen, the NBA’s all-time 3-point leader, was 1 for 7 from beyond the arc. … The Hawks are 1-11 in playoff series against Boston. They last beat the Celtics as the St. Louis Hawks to win the 1958 NBA title. … Rondo had three assists and two baskets during a 16-0 run in the second quarter. Pierce, who came back off the bench in the middle of the run, had five points and a steal over the span of 4 minutes.
76ERS, BULLS 78: Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner hopped on the scorer’s table and played to the crowd as the catchy 76ers theme song blared in the arena.
Eight years of going home empty was over. The Sixers were ready for a long overdue postseason celebration.
Iguodala made the go-ahead free throws with 2.2 seconds left and Philadelphia rallied for a 79-78 victory over the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in Game 6 on Thursday night in Philadelphia, advancing to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time since 2003.
The 76ers will face Boston, which beat Atlanta in six games, in the conference semifinals.
Omar Asik missed two free throws for the Bulls with 7 seconds left that would have sealed the win. Iguodala grabbed the second miss, sprinted the length of the court, and was fouled by Asik on the driving layup. He made both and 20,362 fans went absolutely wild.
The Sixers are the fifth No. 8 seed to win a first-round series against a No. 1 seed. Memphis eliminated San Antonio last season, while Golden State (2007), New York (1999) and Denver (1994) also pulled off the rare feat.
In his second season, coach Doug Collins had already led the Sixers to their first winning season in seven years. Now, it’s on to the second round for the first time Allen Iverson was an All-Star.
“I don’t know how we won this game,” Collins said.
The Sixers were smiling and mobbed each other as they dashed to the locker room to keep the party going.
The Sixers were 2.2 seconds from playing Game 7 in Chicago.
Now, they will pack their bags for the second round.
Iguodala scored 20 points, and Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams each scored 14. The Sixers won even though the Bulls crushed them 56-33 on the boards.
Iguodala snagged the one that mattered.
“We win on a rebound. Something we don’t get all night,” a smiling Collins said.
Iguodala made nine of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter in this series after shooting 45 percent (23 of 51) from the line in the period this season.
“I just wanted it for Dre so badly,” Collins said.
Luol Deng had 19 points and 17 rebounds for the Bulls. Richard Hamilton scored 19 points and Carlos Boozer grabbed 13 rebounds.
The Sixers started 20-9 and led the Atlantic Division for the first half of the season until a late fade sent them tumbling toward eighth place.
None of that matters now.
Not even the fact that the series win comes with a bit of an asterisk. The Bulls lost star guard Derrick Rose to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee late in their series-opening victory. Center Joakim Noah was on the bench Thursday but failed to play in his third straight game with a sprained left ankle.
Without their stars, the Bulls found it tough to gut one out against the Sixers.
“I thought we had more than enough to win with,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I’m disappointed in the loss but I’m not disappointed in our team.”
Williams, second in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award voting, buried a 3-pointer for a 73-72 lead with 4 minutes left.
The jubilation was short lived.
The Sixers were whistled for goaltending and Taj Gibson later made two free throws for a 76-73 lead.
Spencer Hawes tried to draw the foul but settled for a basket underneath to shrink the deficit to one. Asik scored to push the lead back to three with 25.8 seconds left and Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young made it 78-77 to set the stage for the dramatic finish.
The Bulls had the lock-down defensive effort to nearly pull off the win.
The signature series came in the fourth quarter when the Sixers wasted a forced turnover on the other end with a brutal offensive possession.
Hawes missed a shot, Young missed two straight in the paint, and Hawes missed again against hands-up defense that sent the bench into a frenzy. Noah was the first one up pumping his fist and screaming encouragement for the fantastic defensive effort.
Hawes fired an airball next time down and there was a collective groan from the crowd.
Iguodala made up for a string of Sixers misses with a tying 3 that made it 70-all.
The Sixers tried to get a laugh by showing the Bulls bench on “Kiss Cam.” Noah popped his warmup jacket toward the camera and the crowd booed the oversized “Chicago” on the big screen.
Noah was one of the top offensive rebounders in the league and the Bulls figured on missing his presence in the middle. Led by Deng and Boozer, the Bulls instead went out and controlled the boards, holding a 49-29 edge early in the fourth.
“We have to use this as motivation to move forward,” Thibodeau said.
Notes: The Sixers scored a measly 26 first-half points in their Game 5 loss. They led Game 6 48-40 at halftime. … The Sixers started 12 of 20 from the field and finished the half at 50 percent. They shot a season-low 32 percent in Game 5 and failed to shoot better than 40 percent in three other games. … The Bulls had a 3-pointer taken off the board right before the first half.