Hawks go on late run and pull away from Celtics, 118-107

Hawks go on late run and pull away from Celtics, 118-107

The points seemed to flow with ease for both Boston and Atlanta in the first half of their Saturday night matchup.

But the second half was a defensive struggle for both teams, the kind of game that speaks to both being among the NBA’s better defensive squads.

Boston made its share of good plays in the fourth quarter, but the Hawks made more, which would prove to be the difference as Atlanta pulled away for a 118-107 win.

Not only did Saturday’s loss snap Boston’s four-game winning streak, but it also dealt a serious blow to the Celtics’ chances of landing the No. 3 seed in the East. Boston (47-33) has now lost the head-to-head series with Atlanta (48-32) with two games remaining against Charlotte and Miami on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.

Arguably the biggest play of the game was a steal by Jeff Teague that led to completing a 3-point play that put the Hawks ahead 110-103.

The Celtics called a time-out with more than three minutes to play, but it didn’t matter.

At no point in the final three minutes did they regain the composure needed to mount a rally as the Hawks continued to surge ahead for a win that strengthens their grip on being the No. 3 seed in the East when the playoffs begin in about a week.

For most of the game, it was an exercise in what has worked all season for the Hawks and to a certain degree, what continues to keep the Celtics close – but not close enough – to being one of the upper-echelon teams in the East.

Atlanta’s strength all season has been their versatility at getting contributions from a variety of players. They did not disappoint on Saturday with 10 players seeing action in the first half, and finishing with five double-figure scorers led by Paul Millsap’s double-double of 31 points and 16 points.

Boston also had a number of players chip in scoring the ball, with the biggest surprise being Marcus Smart.

Smart, who has shot 23.1 percent from 3-point range this month – an improvement over the 14.0 percent he shot on 3s in March – was on top of his long-ball game on Saturday. It was Smart’s shooting that kept the Celtics relatively close as he scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half and finished shooting 4-for-6 on 3s.

For most of the game, it was very much a game of exchanging runs.

In the third quarter, Boston went on a 14-5 run that put Boston ahead 87-75. Atlanta immediately countered with an 18-4 run which gave the Hawks a 93-91 lead going into the fourth. One of the reasons for Boston’s second half struggles to score – they only had 36 points in the second half – was Atlanta clamping down on the Celtics’ 3-point shooting.

And as we have seen this season, most of Boston’s losses this season have come on nights when their shot-making inexplicably disappears at critical moments … like the fourth quarter.

In the first half, Boston was 10-for-19 on 3s. In the second half, they were just 1-for-9 with the lone make coming in the final minutes from R.J. Hunter when the game was all but decided.

Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

File Photo

Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

Isaiah Thomas back in green? Maybe there's a chance after all.

The former Celtics guard, now with the Lakers, started a Q&A session on Twitter and was asked whether he'd consider returning to Boston this offseason. This was his answer...

That's not a no.

Thomas has had a rough go of it since leaving the Celtics. His brief tenure in Cleveland didn't go according to plan, and things haven't gotten a whole lot better out in L.A. The 29-year-old is averaging 15.3 points per game just a year after averaging 28.9 with Boston.

Let the speculation begin.


Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Al Horford understands that there’s plenty of blame pie to go around following Boston’s 108-89 loss to New Orleans. 

Considering how Pelicans stud Anthony Davis dominated the game on so many levels Sunday night, Horford was quick to acknowledge his role in the loss. 

“He (Davis) was able to get behind our defense a lot,” Horford told reporters after the loss. “Some mistakes on my end; gotta give him credit. He dominated tonight. I’ll definitely take the blame for that.”

Davis finished with a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds, a total that would have been higher if not for the game being so lopsided which allowed Davis to head to the bench early in the fourth. 

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from C's-Pelicans

And Horford’s struggles defensively were just as problematic on offense as the five-time All-Star tallied just six points on 3-for-11 shooting to go with four rebounds and three assists. 

Boston has been a team whose collective sums have fueled their success. 

But Horford understands he has to be a high impact performer, a job that’s even more vital when key starters like Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) and Jaylen Brown (concussion) are out as well as top reserves Marcus Smart (right thumb) and Daniel Theis (torn meniscus). 

And by Horford’s own admission, he just didn’t bring it on Sunday at a level to give him and the Celtics a legit shot at winning the game.

“Defensively we had too many breakdowns,” Horford said. “And the game got away from us in the second half. So there’s no excuses. I didn’t give us a chance, either; missing a lot of looks offensively. I just need to be better.”

And he’ll have to be if Boston (47-23) is to get back on track with a win on Tuesday against a talented Oklahoma City squad led by Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. 

At full strength, the Thunder would be a significant challenge for the Celtics. 

But having a roster with a number of key players out with injuries, it becomes even more imperative for Boston’s top players to elevate their play. 

And as you scan this Celtics roster and examine those who are healthy enough to play, it’s clear that Horford more than any other Boston player, has to find a way to become more impactful.

Certainly, more points and rebounds would help. 

But as we’ve seen time and time again with Horford, often his greatest contributions to winning games don’t necessarily show up in the final box score. 

That being said, a six-point, four-rebound game doesn’t cut it. 

Horford has to be better, something he knows better than anyone. 

“I’ll definitely look at the film and see how I can be better individually,” Horford said. “The good thing about the NBA, is we have a chance to play on Tuesday. Hopefully we’ll learn from this game and be ready to go Tuesday at home.”