Hawks top Celtics for 2d time
ATLANTA - The Celtics have hit a Southern cold snap on this road trip, understandably becoming susceptible to the flu bug. They also are becoming allergic to the Atlanta Hawks, who took a 93-85 win over the Celtics last night.
The Celtics (25-9) fell behind by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, then rallied within 2 in the final quarter before fading again. The Hawks (23-12), who have now won both meetings with the Celtics this season, did it this time with some clutch fourth-quarter shooting by Jamal Crawford.
“I thought they were more physical, I thought they attacked,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re supposed to be the physical team, we haven’t been against them. They’ve been far more physical than us. We have a great spirit on this team and I don’t think we had that [last] night. It happens. I thought . . . on the floor, we were awful - very little talking. And then a lot of excuse-making. That happens and it won’t be the last time. But that’s twice now Atlanta has been the better team.’’
Crawford took over in the final quarter, making his first four shots, a 4-point play providing a 78-67 lead with 7:13 remaining. After Kendrick Perkins’s in-bounds 3-point play, Crawford finally missed and the Celtics got two Ray Allen foul shots in transition. Paul Pierce (21 points) hit a jumper then scored off a turnover to make it 78-76 with 5:27 remaining.
The Hawks then hit their next three shots - a Mike Bibby 3-pointer, a Josh Smith 19-footer, and an Al Horford hook for an 85-79 lead with 3:55 left. The Hawks killed 53 seconds on a possession which included two offensive rebounds, concluding in a Crawford free throw for an 88-82 edge with 1:47 left.
Crawford upped the advantage to 9 points with a 3-pointer with 52 seconds remaining. The shot was set up as the Celtics squandered a potential fast break as Pierce’s three-quarter court pass was stolen by Horford.
“We played in spurts,’’ Rivers said. “We spurted to that (78-76) - we got mad, got a timeout, and everybody got upset And, then, all of a sudden, we start playing extremely hard, and doing all our rules, all our things, and then we let it go again. But you can’t play in spurts against a good team.’’
Guard Eddie House returned from a stomach virus, but guard Tony Allen remained at the team hotel with flu symptoms.
The Celtics seemed to be in control as they led by as many as 8 points in the opening half.
But the Hawks hit their first three 3-pointers of the second half, overcoming a 45-39 halftime deficit. Then, Horford’s dunk upped the lead to 52-49 with 8:18 left in the third quarter. The Celtics disputed the sequence, which started with Bibby stealing an outlet pass, appearing to knock down Rajon Rondo.
“It’s hard to say they surprised us, but they took three quick shots and they made them,’’ Ray Allen said. “They had been using the pick and roll all game and got the ‘3’ ball rolling, and we didn’t do a great job containing that in the second half. They dictated to us how they were going to play. We didn’t have control defensively. All the things that went wrong for us, we still had a chance down the stretch, but we didn’t take care of the ball and we didn’t take care of the boards. And those are two of the principal keys to winning close games.’’
Atlanta continued a 20-6 run as Joe Johnson’s 3-pointer made it 59-51 with 6:17 remaining. The Hawks were 7 for 11 from the field to start the second half, finishing 11 for 18 for the third quarter. The Celtics were 2 for 11 before Rasheed Wallace’s second-chance banker made it 59-53 with 5:05 left in that quarter. But the Celtics seemed to slow down again, the Hawks running out to a 68-53 advantage as Smith beat everyone downcourt for a transition alley-oop with 1:12 left. The Celtics had hit 1 of their last 8 shots before closing to within 8, then J.R. Giddens entered for the final seconds of the period to block a Crawford drive.
“When one team is just shooting wide-open shots and one team is taking poor shots that’s what happens,’’ Rivers said of the third quarter. “To me, just give it to them. They come with a sense when they play us, with a purpose, and we just showed up. I thought the first five minutes we were a Sunday stroll in the park. Then we lit a fire and got it going. We’ll find out - we play them on Monday, but right now you’ve got to give it to them; they’re the better team.’’
The Celtics visit Toronto tomorrow, then will be rematched with the Hawks in Boston Monday.