ATLANTA — Forget about a Boston sweep. The Hawks are headed back to Beantown all tied up with the mighty Celtics.
Joe Johnson scored 35 points — 20 in the fourth quarter — and Josh Smith added 28 points and seven blocks for Atlanta, which surprised the Celtics again 97-92 on Monday night to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
A Game 5 that many never expected to happen is now on, Wednesday night in Boston.
The Hawks, who had the worst record (37-45) of any playoff team, overcame two double-digit deficits to beat a team that won an NBA-leading 66 games during the regular season.
The credit for this Atlanta stunner goes largely to Johnson, who took control in the final quarter. After Smith’s jumper put the Hawks ahead to stay 81-79, Johnson scored nine straight points to keep the Celtics on the ropes.
The knockout came when Paul Pierce drove to the hoop and left it short, then tumbled over a cameraman alongside the basket. When the Boston star finally climbed back to his feet, he had a look of disbelief — which pretty much sums up the way the Celtics are feeling about this series.
Smith went to the other end and made two free throws with 26 seconds remaining for 93-87 lead. Johnson — appropriately enough — finished off the Celtics by making two more foul shots with 14 seconds left.
Ray Allen led Boston with 21 points, and Kevin Garnett added 20.
Smith set an Atlanta playoff record with seven blocks, the last of them a key swat on Garnett after he backed down in the lane, looking for the easy shot, with just over 3 minutes left.
“It’s time to shock the world,” the public address announcer screamed to the sellout crowd of 20,016.
After getting blown out in the first two games, Atlanta turned feisty on its home court. Rookie Al Horford taunted Pierce after putting the Celtics away in Game 3, prompting the Boston forward to flash a menacing gesture that drew a $25,000 fine from the NBA shortly before Game 4.
Then, with 7« minutes left in the second quarter, things really got testy. Garnett threw an elbow at Zaza Pachulia while going for a loose ball. The rugged Pachulia got right in Garnett’s face, going forehead to forehead with the Boston star.
The officials stepped in quickly and Hawks coach Mike Woodson charged onto the court to pull his players away. No punches were thrown and no one was ejected, though the officials did call offsetting technical fouls — two on each team — after looking at a replay.
Boston started like it was going to be a blowout.
The Hawks missed four shots and turned it over three times before finally hitting their first field goal of the game, Smith’s 20-foot jumper with just under 7 minutes left in the first. Boston, on the other hand, hit six of its first seven shots — four from outside the 3-point arc — and built a 16-3 lead before the Hawks knew what hit them.
The NBA’s youngest playoff team was on the ropes, but it didn’t fold. Atlanta closed the period on a 20-3 run, taking a 29-24 lead to the second quarter.
The Hawks led 51-48 at halftime, only to put themselves in another hole with a dismal third quarter.
Standing around on offense and doing little to create shots, Atlanta was 6-of-17 from the field, missed all seven of its 3-point attempts and turned it over seven times, giving Boston plenty of easy baskets.
Garnett scored nine points in the period to lead the Celtics, who went to the fourth with a 75-65 lead.
But the Hawks bounced back again. Johnson shot 7-of-10, including a couple of 3s, and Smith scored 12 points in the final period.
Coming off an unexpected 102-93 win in Game 3, the city was actually fired up about its long-forgotten NBA team. Woodson said he actually noticed some motorists flying Hawks flags on their cars as he drove to Philips Arena, something he hadn’t seen in his four years as coach.
Former owner Ted Turner even showed up for the first time in years, sitting at courtside and waving a white Hawks towel.
Notes: Smith broke the Atlanta playoff record of six blocks shared by Tree Rollins and Dikembe Mutombo. ... Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield was at the game. ... Boston was called twice for defensive 3-second violations, and Johnson hit the free throw each time.