<
>

Rapid Reaction: Hawks 88, Celtics 83

Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics' 88-83 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on Friday night:

The rundown: We're No. 3! | B2B Blues | Turning Point | Silver Lining | Layup Line

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Delonte West's play off the bench was a bright spot for the Celtics--WE'RE NO. 3! (FORGET ABOUT NO. 1)--

The Celtics fell asleep in the fourth quarter and lost a game they should have won. They had a 12-point lead, were in total control and then became unglued, taking bad shots and making worse decisions.

“We could have stretched [the lead]; we could have pushed the lead to 15,’’ Paul Pierce said.

But they didn’t. In losing, the Celtics dropped their first game of the season to the Hawks and slid into third place in the Eastern Conference. With only seven games remaining, they can pretty much kiss the No. 1 overall seed goodbye. They trail the Bulls by three games in the loss column and have to play them in Chicago on Thursday. They are even with Miami in the loss column -- and they have to play the Heat in Miami a week from Sunday. Doc Rivers doesn’t seem to be concerned about this, even though it has been a season-long mission for the team.

“It’s important to be healthy,’’ he said. “We’ve been saying that for a while. We would like to get [seed] 1 or 2. We would really like to get healthy.”

--BACK-TO-BACK BLUES:--

Stop if you’ve heard this story. The Celtics lost on the second night of back-to-back games. This has become a disturbing trend over the second half of the season, especially on the road. This was the seventh time this season the Celtics have had road back-to-backs and they are now 2-5 in the second game (3-10 overall when the second night of a back-to-back occurs on the road). They have one set left: at Miami on April 10 and at Washington on April 11. You could see the problem in this one before the game was even played. There was a game in a different time zone the night before. The Celtics arrived at 4 a.m. in Atlanta. Doc Rivers used 10 players in the first half, trying to conserve some energy. The only positive to be gleaned from this is that there are unlikely to be any back-to-backs in the playoffs. There will not be any that involve travel. But the Celtics look tired in this one at the end. It was the fourth game of a four-game road trip. Overall, they are 7-10 in the second game of back-to-backs.

--THIRD-QUARTER TURNING POINT--

Yes, the Celtics played badly down the stretch. They shot 5 of 17 in the fourth quarter and allowed 26 points.

“If you’re a great defensive team, you can never allow that many points in the fourth quarter,’’ Doc Rivers said.

But the Celtics really blew this one in the third quarter, after they had built a 12-point lead. The Hawks were cooperating on their end, missing shot after shot and basically waiting for the Celtics to deliver the coup de grace. Instead, the Celtics wasted a golden opportunity, trading missed shots with the Hawks and also clanging free throws.

“We took horrible shots on one end and then got lax on the other end, and it became a game,” Rivers said. “We had a chance, in the third quarter to stretch the game, we didn't, they got back in the game, [and] now the back-to-back comes into play.”

The Celtics had a 12-point lead with 6:50 left after Rajon Rondo rebounded his own missed free throw and fed Kevin Garnett for a baseline jumper. They then went scoreless over the next 2:10, missing three shots and two free throws. By the end of three, Atlanta had cut the deficit to six points.

--SILVER LINING DEPARTMENT--

Delonte West played a terrific game off the bench, and that has to be construed as a positive step going forward. (It also probably dooms Carlos Arroyo to further insignificance. Is he still on the team?) West had 10 points, five assists, two steals and two big blocked shots in 24 active minutes. It was West’s highest scoring game since he had 10 on Feb. 24 in Denver and marks the third time this season he has scored in double figures. A productive West is something the Celtics can certainly use going forward. We will note, however, that the Celtics were a minus-16 when West was on the floor.

--LAYUP LINE--

* Paul Pierce picked up a technical foul in the first quarter when he got tangled up with Joe Johnson and shoved the Hawk forward. “It’s nothing,’’ he said of the dust-up. “We’re just competing.” According to the NBA’s technical foul tracker, it is Pierce’s eighth of the season -- and first since Feb. 7 at Charlotte. Kevin Garnett leads the Celtics in this dubious category with 11.

* Boston dropped to 6-5 in the 11 games that Glen Davis has started this season. Doc Rivers had planned to give Jermaine O’Neal the night off, but couldn’t afford to do so after Nenad Krstic got hurt in San Antonio and was unavailable. O’Neal, who went 11 minutes Thursday in his first action in nearly three months, played 16 minutes Friday. He was pretty much a cipher with 1 point and 1 rebound.

* Atlanta’s Josh Smith ended an 0-for-14 season stretch against the Celtics with a first-quarter dunk. He had been 0-for-11 in the first two meetings and missed his first three shots in this one. Smith, however, was nowhere to be seen when Atlanta made its move. Atlanta coach Larry Drew sat Smith for the final 13:53.

* The Celtics shot 55 percent from the free-throw line, missing 9 of 20 attempts. They also were outrebounded 52-38... Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 25 points. Ray Allen, again, was missing on offense for much of the night, taking only nine shots in 37 minutes and finishing with 11 points... Jason Collins was announced as a starter for Atlanta, but Drew made a last-minute change and put Al Horford in the middle. Collins never got into the game. Horford came up huge down the stretch and finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds while playing 47 minutes.