Hawks' beef wears down Celtics

By John Hollinger

ATLANTA -- Rookie coach Larry Drew has taken a lot of heat for his stewardship of the Atlanta Hawks this season, but for the second straight game he had all the right answers as the Hawks beat an Eastern Conference contender.

After using Jason Collins to stymie Orlando's Dwight Howard on Wednesday, Drew shifted gears and didn't play Collins a minute tonight -- instead using 7-footer Zaza Pachulia extensively as the Hawks rallied from 12 points down to top Boston 88-83.

Pachulia played the entire fourth quarter while a struggling Josh Smith cooled his heels on the bench, and the move allowed the Hawks to pound Boston into submission on the glass. He scored 15 points and added 10 rebounds, including five on the offensive boards, as the Hawks enjoyed a 14-3 edge in offensive rebounds and an 18-2 edge in second-chance points.

"Give Drew credit," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought the substitution of Pachulia changed the game. He was the toughest dude on the floor. Banging everybody, got offensive rebounds, kept things alive, I thought that was a great move."

Pachulia, who famously scuffled with Kevin Garnett in the Hawks' first round playoff series with Boston in 2008, also got into a scrap with Jermaine O'Neal just moments after entering the game that saw both players hit with technical fouls.

"People think we're tough," said Rivers, "so when they play us they feel like they have to act tough back."

For Boston, it was a familiar story, as their offense melted down completely in the second half and they lost a back-to-back. The Celtics scored only 31 points after the break and shot 11-of-20 from the free-throw line.

"The ball stuck a lot," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "At the end of the game the one more pass rule went out the window. I thought we took quick, bad shots."

Boston's dead legs showed on a couple occasions -- most notably early in the fourth quarter, when a missed shot by Joe Johnson hit the floor without any Celtic making a move to retrieve it. Jamal Crawford, who was standing in the corner beyond the 3-point line, ran in to retrieve it and then passed to Pachulia for a lay-up. That basket giving Atlanta its first lead of the second half at 73-71, and Boston never regained the advantage.

It's a key defeat for the Celtics, who dropped into third in the East and face the prospect of having to win three straight series without home-court advantage in order to a win a championship -- something they were trying to avoid after losing Game 7 of the Finals a year ago.

And with Nenad Krstic and Shaquille O'Neal out and Jermaine O'Neal still shaking off the rust, Drew's tactic may have exposed a new, unexpected weakness in Boston -- a lack of quality size to match up against bigger lineups.