ATLANTA (AP) — Paul Millsap believes the Atlanta Hawks are getting hot at the right time.
With the playoffs starting next week, they’re coming off consecutive wins over two of the best teams in the East.
Millsap had a season-high 31 points and 16 rebounds, Jeff Teague added 24 points and the Hawks beat the Boston Celtics 118-107 on Saturday night.
“Tonight was a tough game for us,” Paul Millsap said. “The last game was a tough game. Cleveland is going to be a tough game. Washington is going to be tough. I think it’s important that we step up to the challenge that’s been presented to us.”
Kent Bazemore finished with 21 points for Atlanta, which moved one game ahead of Boston to take sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference.
With two regular-season games left for both teams, the Hawks moved 1½ games ahead of Southeast Division rivals Miami and Charlotte while Boston has just a half-game lead over the Heat and Hornets.
Marcus Smart finished with 19 points and Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas each scored 16 for the Celtics, whose four-game winning streak ended.
“We needed this win,” Thomas said. “We were up 12 at one point. In the fourth quarter, we just couldn’t make shots. It was tough for us. It was a tough game for myself. I’m very frustrated with this. It hurts.”
After playing one of their best games of the season in Thursday’s win over No. 2 seed Toronto, the Hawks essentially ended Boston’s hopes when Kyle Korver hit a 3 to push the lead to 10 with 1:50 remaining.
The point guard tandem of Teague and Dennis Schroder combined for 39 points and 14 assists to help the Hawks win their third straight and 12th in the last 15.
Boston took the game’s first 12-point lead on Crowder’s fastbreak layup midway through the third, but the Hawks closed the period on an 18-4 run. They took their first lead since midway through the second on Millsap’s fifth 3 of the game and his layup on the next possession in the third’s final minute.
In their last regular-season home game, the Hawks allowed 71 points in the first half, the second-most they’ve given up this season.
“I think it was just a crazy pace in the first half,” Teague said. “They did a great job of making shots and getting it to the open man and playing in transition in the second half, I think we locked down, got back on defense and tried to make it tough for them and it helped us to get a big win.”
The Celtics missed 10 of 11 attempts beyond the arc in the second half, but Boston coach Brad Stevens thought Atlanta’s veteran leadership showed more poise.
“Those guys have been good for a long time,” Stevens said. “We had to do a lot of tweaking and changing on the fly. I think we forced them to do so, too. We ran out of shots quicker than they did.”
Celtics: For the first time in 19 games, Thomas didn’t score at least 20 points. He missed 10 of 12 shots from the field in the second half and had three turnovers. Thomas hurt his left wrist after falling hard fall in Friday’s home win over Milwaukee. “I got, I think, 15 shots in the paint, so they didn’t pressure me that much,” he said. “I had some turnovers that are uncharacteristic. I got what I wanted when I wanted it. For some reason, I couldn’t make any layups.”
Hawks: Have won four straight at home against Boston. With a 3-1 season advantage, Atlanta earns a tiebreaker if the teams end the regular season with the same record. … Millsap’s previous season high was 29 points in last week’s home loss to Cleveland. … Bazemore, who missed the Toronto game with a sore right knee, went 8 of 13 from the field.
SIZZLIN’ SECOND QUARTER
There were five second-quarter lead changes and five ties. The Celtics shot 61 percent, with Marcus Smart scoring eight points. Teague had nine points as the Hawks shot 55 percent.
Celtics: Host Charlotte on Monday.
Hawks: Visit Cleveland on Monday.