Celtics fall to Hawks 118-107 in battle for Eastern Conference third seed

After a sloppy start and a sluggish offensive fourth quarter, the Boston Celtics lost to the Atlanta Hawks 118-107 and dropped out of a tie for the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. On the second night of a back-to-back, the C's lost their legs as the game went on and it cost them.

The C's got off to a slow start on both ends of the floor. The transition defense was lacking and a few careless turnovers led to Atlanta fast break points. The Hawks got out to a 9-2 lead before Brad Stevens took an early timeout. After the timeout, Boston was much more focused on the defensive end and they started executing on offense. Marcus Smart nailed two first quarter three-point shots, but the C's went into the second quarter down 34-32, courtesy of a Dennis Schroder buzzer-beater.

The Celtics used a 12-4 run to open the second quarter to get some separation. Shortly after taking a six point lead, Kent Bazemore scored five straight points to cut the Boston lead back down to just one. As has been the case since the roster has been fully healthy, the Boston bench was a major factor in the first half. Smart, Kelly Olynyk, and Evan Turner combined for 27 points in the first half.

The C's were able to win the fire fight in the first half and take a 71-67 lead into the halftime break. Both teams were on fire from beyond the arc and there was little defense being played from either side. Smart led the way with 14 points on 4-5 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half and Amir Johnson and Avery Bradley both added 10 a piece.

The Celtics started the second half with a smaller lineup by substituting Smart in for Jared Sullinger, who had only played six minutes in the first half. Because of the defensive versatility of players like Smart and Jae Crowder, who got the call to cover Al Horford, the C's were able extend their lead over the first half of the third quarter.

The C's opened the second half on a 16-8 run and opened up their first double digit lead of the game 87-75. The defense was the key to the run. The Celtics were able to force turnovers and get out and run the floor. Atlanta answered back with a quick 8-0 run of their own, though, to cut the lead to just four points. The C's were able to maintain the lead until the final minute of the quarter and went into the final frame down 93-91.

Both teams traded baskets in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. After shooting a blistering percentage in the first half, the Celtics cooled off from the field in the second half, but were able to stay in the game because of their defense. After The Celtics were able to keep the game within a possession for most of the fourth quarter, the Hawks were able to open up a seven point lead with just under three minutes left in the game. After looking energized for most of the first half, the Celts looked gassed down the stretch and could not complete the comeback attempt late in the fourth.

Smart led the Celtics with 19 points while Johnson added 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Isaiah Thomas struggled from the field in one of his rare poor games of late.

Paul Millsap had a monster game with 31 points and 16 rebounds while Jeff Teague had 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Photo Credit: Jason Getz/USAToday Sports
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