July 15, 2024

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ATLANTA — De’Andre Hunter could’ve held the ball and forced the Celtics to foul.

Instead, he let it fly.

Considering what the Atlanta Hawks had done, rallying from a 30-point deficit against NBA-leading Boston, it was only appropriate the shot hit nothing but net.

Hunter scored 24 points, including a clinching 3-pointer with 9.2 seconds remaining, and the patched-together Hawks pulled off one of the most improbable wins in franchise history with a 120-118 stunner over the Celtics on Monday night.

The Celtics had won 20 of 22 and brought a nine-game winning streak into State Farm Arena — a run that certainly appeared in no jeopardy when Al Horford’s 3-pointer put Boston up 68-38 with just under 4½ minutes left in the first half.

But the Hawks — one of the league’s most disappointing teams — clinging to the final play-in spot in the East, launched a comeback out of nowhere with All-Star guard Trae Young and three other key players sidelined by injuries.

It was the first 30-point comeback win since the 2021-22 LA Clippers beat the Wizards 116-115 after trailing by 35, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. Before Monday’s game, teams were 5-2,606 over the past 25 years in games they trailed by at least 30 points.

It was also the biggest comeback win for Atlanta since at least the 1997-98 season, when the NBA began keeping detailed play-by-plays.

Dejounte Murray put the Hawks ahead to stay at 117-116 on a reverse layup with a minute left. Jaylen Brown missed a desperation 3 with the shot clock expiring, and Hunter sealed things at the other end with a huge assist from Clint Capela.

After Murray missed a jumper, Capela grabbed the offensive rebound and spotted Hunter all alone at the top of the key. Even though the shot clock was off and Hunter could’ve forced the Celtics to foul, he let go an open look from 26 feet.

Hunter had run through the scenario before he got the ball.

“If he passes it to me, I’m shooting,” Hunter told himself. “He got the rebound, he passed it to me, so I shot it.”

Hawks coach Quin Snyder had no problem with the seemingly ill-advised decision.

“He didn’t hesitate,” Snyder said. “He shot the ball with confidence, and I had confidence in him.”

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