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Celtics 102, Hawks 90

Celtics win by healthy margin

Despite all the injuries, they have enough in reserve to extend streak to 12

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 17, 2010

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They’re all professionals. Doc Rivers didn’t see any reason to caution his team about coming down from the emotional high they left Madison Square Garden with Wednesday night.

Besides, shaking off the afterglow of their win over the Knicks was the least of the Celtics’ concerns last night.

First there was news that Rajon Rondo would miss at least two weeks with a sprained ankle — that coming on top of Shaquille O’Neal’s continued absence. Then, there was the matter of an Atlanta Hawks team still sporting scars from the 23-point beating the Celtics dealt them a month ago.

But Paul Pierce wanted to make sure senses were heightened in the locker room. The Celtics were going to have to find a way to win with seven veterans and three rookies, and Pierce told his teammates the challenge would be more mental than anything else.

“A lot of guys are just mentally fatigued,’’ Pierce said. “We were just trying to find it.’’

The Celtics dealt with it all, running their win streak to an even dozen with a 102-90 victory. Pierce (15 points, 10 assists) was on the floor for 38 minutes and Ray Allen (18 points) played 39. Kevin Garnett posted his third straight double-double (17 points, 14 rebounds), and Glen Davis went for 18 points and 10 boards off the bench. Nate Robinson added 14 points and five assists filling in for Rondo as the Celtics matched San Antonio for the NBA’s longest winning streak this season.

“We’re just out here grinding,’’ Garnett said. “It’s a gutsy win, it’s a good win being the circumstances — guys out, back-to-back. A lot of teams would make excuses to lay down, but we’re not that type of team. We’re trying to win all of these games and position ourselves for the playoffs.’’

The Celtics shot 53 percent from the floor and scored 50 points in the paint, upping their record to 21-4. The Hawks didn’t have trouble scoring, either, shooting 50 percent. Marvin Williams put up a season-high 26 points. But one of Atlanta’s key weapons fired blanks.

Almost everything Josh Smith put up was a miss (0 for 8 from the floor, 1 for 2 from the foul line), and in the third quarter, he grew increasingly frustrated, staring at the referees, looking for calls that never came.

At that time, the Celtics were putting together an 11-3 burst that would ultimately bury the Hawks. Pierce pulled up from 24 feet and drilled a 3-pointer that put the Celtics ahead, 64-56, with 5:09 left, their biggest lead to that point.

The Celtics’ win streak started Nov. 22 in Atlanta, when they battered the Hawks one day after an embarrassing loss in Toronto.

“They knew how we played against Atlanta the last time,’’ Rivers said. “And they knew Atlanta was going to come with a great force.’’

The Hawks might have wanted revenge, but they couldn’t get it. After being swept by the Hawks last season, the Celtics have a chance to close out the three-game season series on April Fool’s Day.

“It’s frustrating when you’re right there,’’ said Jeff Teague, who scored 18 points off the bench for the Hawks, going on a tear in the second quarter with a trio of fast-break dunks.

With so many players injured, the Celtics had to resort to some unconventional lineups, including one to start the second quarter — rookies Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody went out with Allen, Davis, and Marquis Daniels. The Hawks were missing some key components as well with Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford both injured.

Pierce refused to use personnel as an excuse.

“On most nights we’re putting three or four All-Stars on the floor,’’ he said. “So even with guys injured, we still feel like we have an advantage.’’

Despite holding Smith and Al Horford to a combined 1-of-8 shooting before the break, the Celtics trailed for most of the first half.

But they closed out the second quarter with a 10-2 run, dotted by a dunk and a putback by Garnett that gave them a 44-43 advantage, swinging the momentum as they went into the locker room.

The Celtics never trailed in the second half.

“In order for us to win these games, we’re just going to have to grind it out until we get the guys back,’’ Garnett said. “What are you going to do? You either quit, you put your clothes on and go home, but that ain’t the way we do things around here. We work.’’

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