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The flaws in Boston’s game are clear: poor rebounding, too many turnovers, and average age/health. Each of those holes became glaring in the Celtics’ loss to the Hawks on Friday night in Atlanta, 93-85.
The rundown: Boston, the second worst rebounding team in the NBA, lost the battle of the boards, 39-36; turned the ball over 15 times; played without Kevin Garnett, Tony Allen, and Marquis Daniels; and were blown away by the younger, more athletic Hawks in the second half.
The Hawks (23-12) shot 49% from the field, including 50% from behind the arc, with all five starters finishing the game in double figures. Sixth man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford made the most of his 25 minutes on the floor, leading all Atlanta scorers with 18 points.
After an ugly first quarter when both teams came out cold, the Celtics heated up in the 2nd frame, draining four of five three-pointers. Boston entered the locker room at the half with a six point lead, 45-39, and enough momentum to hand the struggling Hawks their fifth loss in six games.
But, the Hawks came out in the second half like they were shot out of a cannon. In just three minutes, Boston’s six point lead was erased, and a Mike Bibby three put the Hawks up 50-49–a lead they would never relinquish.
Atlanta didn’t just up their offensive game, they put the clamps down defensively, holding the Celtics to just 15 points in the third quarter. Worse, those 15 points are a bit deceptive. With 1:11 remaining in the third, Boston had scored a pathetic 8 points, and this reporter was ready to consult the record books for the Celtics’ lowest ever point total in a quarter (six points in the second quarter against New Jersey on 1/9/90). A Usain Bolt-quick 7-0 run by Boston salvaged the quarter and cut the Hawks double-digit lead to 8.
The teams traded baskets in the fourth until the Celtics went on a 10-0 run at the 7-minute mark, making the score 78-76 (Hawks lead). Paul Pierce led the Green with 21 points and six steals, at one point poured in 10 consecutive Celtics’ points in the fourth, but Boston ran out of gas and managed just four points in the final three minutes.