Celtics Vs. Hawks: Paul Pierce, Boston Fall Short In Atlanta, 88-83
Paul Pierce totaled 25 points and eight rebounds, but the Boston Celtics fell short against the Atlanta Hawks, losing 88-83 on Friday night at Philips Arena. Jamal Crawford scored 20 points and Joe Johnson added 19 points for Atlanta. Read more at SB Nation Atlanta, as well as our team blogs, CelticsBlog and Peachtree Hoops.
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The Celtics, disinterested in prosperity over the past month, deposited any good will engendered by their win over the Spurs on Thursday in the trash with an 88-83 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. As they have so many times in the past four weeks, the C's, who arrived in Atlanta from San Antonio at 4 a.m. on Friday, tired in the fourth, wasting a double digit lead and allowing a seemingly inferior opponent that appeared defeated to hang around long enough to take advantage of their lack of proficiency on the offensive end in the late going. The loss, combined with wins by Chicago and Miami, knocked the Celts (52-23) back into third place in the Eastern Conference, a half game behind the Heat for second and three games behind the Bulls for first.
Leading 68-62 headed into the fourth, the Celts were outscored 26-15 in the final frame, making just five of 17 shots from the floor. Paul Pierce led the C's with 25 points and eight rebounds but was just 4-of-10 from the floor in the second half. The C's, who followed up a 31 point second quarter with a 31 point second half, shot 44.6 percent but were brutal from the free throw line, converting just 11 of their 20 attempts. The Hawks (44-32) also took advantage of the C's lack of size up front, outrebounding Boston 52-38.
Rajon Rondo put up another solid game with 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, but didn't take a shot in the fourth quarter. Kevin Garnett added 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in just 27 minutes and Delonte West posted 10 points and five assists off the bench. Ray Allen was again a forgotten man for the C's, taking just nine shots on the night, only one of them in the fourth quarter. Jermaine O'Neal, in his second game back after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in January, had one point and one rebound in 15 minutes.
The Hawks won this one despite shooting just 37 percent from the floor. Jamal Crawford led the way with 20 points off the bench while Joe Johnson scored 19 on just 4-of-20 from the floor. Al Horford, who gave Atlanta a five point lead with a big tip-in with just 7.9 seconds to play, registered his 35th double-double of the season with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Unlike the C's, the Hawks took advantage from the foul line, making 26 of their 30 attempts.
This was the final game of a four-game road trip for the C's, who were 2-2 over that stretch. They return home Sunday for a 6 p.m. EDT, meeting with the Detroit Pistons.
Given the Celtics recent propensity for the inconsistent, one might be remiss to read too much into Thursday night's 107-97 win over the Western Conference leading San Antonio Spurs. But after a shaky first quarter in that one, the C's looked about as good as they have in weeks, perhaps realizing that with the playoffs just around the corner that time is of the essence and the up-and-down nature of their last three weeks had better be placed firmly in the rearviewmirror.
We'll see how much, if at all, things have actually changed on Friday night, when the Celts (52-22) finish off their four-game road trip with a matchup against the Atlanta Hawks at 8 p.m. EDT, on Comcast Sports Net New England and ESPN.
They have a lot to build on, starting with Rajon Rondo's performance in San Antonio. After scoring 22 points and dishing eight assists in Monday's loss to the Indiana Pacers, Rondo came back with 22 more points and 14 more assists, his best showing in ages (and his first 20-10 game in four months). Paul Pierce read his teammates the riot act for their lackluster play of late prior to the game, then went out and backed it up with 21 points (11 of which came in the first quarter after Kevin Garnett went to the bench with two quick fouls), six rebounds and three assists. And Jermaine O'Neal finally played, for the first time since Jan. 12, and responded with a modest five points in 11 minutes, a big development considering the Celts depth issues up front all year (issues that may well be further compounded thanks to the knee injury suffered by Nenad Krstic in the second quarter against the Spurs which will require an MRI exam on Friday).
The Celts haven't fared well on the second night of back-to-backs this season but the last time they saw the Hawks in Atlanta in such a situation, the Green vaporized them to the tune of a 99-76 blowout. Atlanta (43-32) looks locked into the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to a three-game win streak that has come on the heels of a 3-8 stretch from March 4-23. During the three-game stretch, the Hawks have been doing it on the defensive end, holding opponents to 84 points and 42 percent shooting per game. Forward Josh Smith has averaged 23.5 points and 10 rebounds over his last four games but in the Hawks two losses to the Celts this season, he's missed all 11 shots he's attempted.