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It was an awfully tall task for the Boston Celtics — three games in four nights, and the second two coming on the road against the Magic and Hawks. To make matters worse, the C’s suffered a heartbreaking last-second loss to the Magic before coming into Friday night’s showdown with Hawks (a tough 100-91 loss).
It didn’t appear like the players were carrying over any baggage from the previous night’s loss in the first quarter. Paul Pierce, who scored a game-high 35 points, was hot early, scoring 12 of the team’s 22 first quarter points, and the Celtics found themselves down by just a point entering the second quarter. The Hawk’s Jamal Crawford, a Celtic killer, nailed a half-court buzzer beater as the first quarter expired to give the Hawks a 23-22 edge.
The Hawks bench outscored the Celtics bench 13-2 in the first quarter, and continued their dominant play as Atlanta opened up the second quarter with a 16-4 run. Boston couldn’t seem to slow the Hawks down. Atlanta held a 16-0 advantage in fast break points in the first quarter, and continued to push the tempo of the game in the second, outscoring the Celtics 30-19.
Jamal Crawford fueled the Atlanta offense, scoring 17 points in the first half. Crawford seems to have the Celtics number this season. He scored 18, 17, and 17 in Atlanta’s first three wins over Boston, and dropped 28 on Friday night.
With the first unit opening the second half, the Celtics managed to cut the Hawks lead from 14 to 1 late in the third quarter. Kevin Garnett, who scored 15 points on the night, began going to work on the over-matched Zaza Pachulia. A plethora of Atlanta fouls, including two technicals and a flagrant, allowed Boston back into the game. The Celtics went on to hit 19 of 20 free throws in the third quarter.
The game gradually slipped away from the Celtics in the final quarter. When they needed to make a defensive stop, they couldn’t. The Hawks four-time All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson exploded late, scoring 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, helping his team put the finishing touches on a 100-91 victory.
The Hawks moved one-half game ahead of Boston in the Eastern Conference with the win, and clinched the 4-0 regular season sweep. If these two teams meet again, it will be in the playoffs.