Rapid Reaction: Hawks 97, Celtics 92

Rapid reaction following the Boston Celtics' 97-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night:


Joe Johnson scored a game-high 30 points and Josh Smith contributed a strong 19-point, 12-rebound double-double for the Hawks, who rolled out their usual rotation of players. Meanwhile, Avery Bradley led the short-handed Celtics with a career-high 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting from the floor, to go along with three assists and four steals, while Keyon Dooling scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting (3-of-4 from 3-point land) in a starting role. Marquis Daniels also came through with a double-digit scoring effort, registering 12 points to go along with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals.


Celtics coach Doc Rivers elected to rest Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, joining the likes of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus (injuries) out of uniform on Friday. As a result, the Celtics had only 10 available bodies against Atlanta, but nearly managed to pull off the upset against a Hawks squad going all-out with its normal rotation playing normal minutes. Rivers and his staff have to be thrilled with the effort the reserves put forth, as Atlanta probably figured it was in for a walk in the park when it became clear Garnett and Co. wouldn't play.


Former Boston College big man Sean Williams made his Celtics debut after signing with the team earlier in the day. Williams logged just three first-half minutes, pulling down a single rebound. Going forward, he'll most likely be used as emergency insurance along the frontline.


The Celtics trailed by as many as 12 in the first half and trailed by 9 at intermission, but closed the third quarter on a 10-2 run, trailing only 74-71 heading into the final quarter. The fourth quarter remained tight, with Atlanta assuming a 6-point advantage with 1:29 to play on two Johnson free throws. Brandon Bass got the Celtics back within 4 with two freebies of his own, but a Josh Smith putback with 32.3 seconds left sealed things for the Hawks.


With 1:14 to play in the third quarter and the Hawks advancing on offense, Bradley was attempting to tie his shoe as he retreated on defense, eventually giving up that effort and leaping into the passing lane to intercept a pass from Kirk Hinrich. Bradley advanced the ball the other way and found a hustling Ryan Hollins for a dunk in the lane, bringing Boston within 4 points.


Hollins came through with one of his finer efforts of the season. Playing 25 minutes -- a high for him during his time with Boston -- Hollins brought much-needed energy and effort on both ends of the floor, finishing with eight points and five rebounds, while registering a plus-12.


The Celtics have to be encouraged by the effort their reserves put forth, even if they came up short of winning against the same rotation the Hawks will roll out for the playoffs. While losing to Atlanta hurt the Celtics' chances of securing home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs (they'll likely see the Hawks in the opening round), they clearly are valuing health and rest over a home-court edge. Veterans like Garnett and Pierce were able to soak up some valuable (and much-deserved) rest, while Bradley was given a great opportunity to run the show and showcase how valuable he could be throughout the postseason.