Hawks barely hang on to defeat Celtics Lite (Updated)

Josh Smith and the Hawks found the second-string Celtics a little more difficult to handle than expected. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Josh Smith and the Hawks found the second-string Celtics a little more difficult to handle than expected. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

(Last update: 10:17 p.m.)

Dwight Howard, once again reaffirming that there is no “team” in “I,” decided this week to have back surgery now rather than get an injection, bite a bullet, look away from the vanity mirror and wait until after the NBA playoffs to have his procedure.

This decision will not only submarine Orlando’s postseason aspirations, it fairly cemented that the Hawks and Boston will finish as the Eastern Conference’s Nos. 4 and 5 seeds and ensure they will meet in the first round of the playoffs. So at least in some sense, Friday’s Hawks-Celtics game was a postseason preview.

But the Hawks had better hope what we just witnessed will bear little resemblance to what happens next week.

The Celtics played their second string. The Hawks merely looked second-rate.

Facing a Boston lineup that was missing Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus – cue Rick Pitino: “Nobody of worth is walking through that door” — the Hawks started well enough (led 19-9 five minutes into the game), toyed with the Celtics for two quarters, got sloppy on offense, soft on defense, looked desperate, saw their lead dwindle to one point several times in the fourth, and then eventually stumbled across the finish line with a 97-92 win.

So. Feeling confident about next week now?

“As far as I’m concerned, Boston accomplished what they wanted — t0 have their reserves come out and compete at a high level and take us down to the wire,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said.

He wasn’t celebrating, even though the Hawks (38-25) all but clinched home-court advantage in the first round. They lead Boston (37-37) by 1½ games. They have only three to play and the Celtics have two.

So there’s the comfort of that. But everything else Friday made you want to run headfirst into a wall.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers explained his team’s lineup before the game as so: “We would like home-court advantage in the playoffs, but it’s more important to be healthy and fresh.”

Let me translate: “Take this game. We surrender.”

I mean, does anything wave a white flag more than a starting lineup of Avery Bradley, Keyon Dooling, Sasha Pavlovic, Brandon Bass and Greg Stiemsma?

Rivers gave us Celtics Lite. The Hawks had a chance to bury their likely first-round opponent and maybe dent their egos just a bit. Instead, they came close to getting humiliated.

The lone bright spot was Joe Johnson, who finished with 30 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals. His drive-and-one with two minutes remaining stretched a one-point lead to 90-86. His feed to Josh Smith with under a minute left gave the Hawks some relative comfort at 94-88.

“We were just careless,” Smith said later. “When you get geared up to play a team with the high potential of Boston and you come out right before the game see that [their starters] are not going to play, I don’t know if it does something mentally to you but … it makes it unpredictable.”

It was easy to understand Rivers’ mindset Friday. The ridiculous post-lockout schedule, courtesy of commissioner David Stern, has prompted coaches to rest banged up starters all season. But Rivers’ lineup also suggested he either had supreme confidence in his team in the playoffs or he just didn’t fear the Hawks much, regardless of where the games are going to be played.

A slight ‘dis’, perhaps?

Drew said before the game he wasn’t insulted by Rivers’ decision. Nor with Smith.

“I don’t think it’s a slap in the face,” he said, repeating a reporter’s question. “They have a good team, a veteran team. They know how to win on the road and win in the postseason. If they don’t want [home court], we’ll take it. We’ll definitely take it.”

Drew intended to keep his offensive and defensive sets vanilla Friday so as to not tip off Rivers on any changes he had planned for the playoffs. That thought process would’ve worked if the Hawks hadn’t turned the ball over 18 times, given up some easy buckets and generally played down to the competition.

The fourth quarter was pure desperation. It’s not the last memory the Hawks wanted before the playoffs. Fortunately, the slate is wiped clean before next weekend. They will be glad to let this one go.

By Jeff Schultz

137 comments Add your comment

Hard In The Paint Like Josh Smith

April 20th, 2012
6:16 pm

hmmm lets see how this game will go tonight

Benjamin

April 20th, 2012
6:17 pm

First. And I still disagree with you regarding Howard….

David

April 20th, 2012
6:19 pm

Bah. Wanted to watch a good, competitive game tonight. We’ll be watching Ivan dunking on people like Stiemsma by the 2nd quarter.

Steve

April 20th, 2012
6:19 pm

Wow I am a loser because I wasn’t first. Jeff have you guys done a live blog from a Braves game yet? Any coming up? Sorry you weren’t “first” either Jeff.

Benjamin's an idiot

April 20th, 2012
6:22 pm

No, that’s all.

Benjamin

April 20th, 2012
6:22 pm

I’ll take a W however it comes.

Go Hawks!

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2012
6:28 pm

Steve — Ninth! (I’m never first.) … I haven’t live-blogged from Braves yet this season but certainly have frequently in the past.

Hard In The Paint Like Josh Smith

April 20th, 2012
6:29 pm

Bemjamin you failed

Hard In The Paint Like Josh Smith

April 20th, 2012
6:30 pm

I miss live bloggin with jeff or mark they are the best!

Benjamin

April 20th, 2012
6:30 pm

My very first comment troll.

I feel honored.

Benjamin

April 20th, 2012
6:31 pm

True story. Probably because I was typing that second sentence…

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2012
6:33 pm

Benjamin — Congrats. Today is your Bar Mitzvah!

Blahblahblah

April 20th, 2012
6:34 pm

This should be a 15 point win with little trouble. Anything under that is not acceptable.

Shamrock

April 20th, 2012
6:35 pm

Celtics Ball boys and cheerleaders squeak out a win against the Hawks starters.

Hawks fans on suicide watch.

Hard In The Paint Like Josh Smith

April 20th, 2012
6:41 pm

Hawks need to get a huge lead and rest the starters

TYBG

April 20th, 2012
6:42 pm

YOLO Doc Rivers, YOLO.

Benjamin

April 20th, 2012
6:51 pm

All 15 of us, Shamrock?

Benjamin

April 20th, 2012
6:53 pm

Enter your comments hereI don’t know what to wear to a Mitzvah, Schultzie. Do I have to wear shoes?

Benjamin

April 20th, 2012
6:55 pm

My phone is not a very good AJC commenter.

Enjoy the game, fellas…

Gray Mule

April 20th, 2012
6:56 pm

If the Hawks can’t win tonight VS the Celtic’s bench, they will be the
laughting stock of the entire NBA and just as well stay home when
it comes playoff time.
If these Hawks have ever had a “must win” game, tonight is it.

KevinM

April 20th, 2012
7:00 pm

So Jeff, are you saying that D12 is writing off the season and awaiting for SVG to pack his bags? What a train wreck of a team!

And if the Hawks don’t get HC advantage now, then they have no shot and beating Boston in a crucial game in Beantown. The locals see the writing on the wall, and Doc is gonna try and pull them through one more year with a winnable Eastern conference.

Hard In The Paint Like Josh Smith

April 20th, 2012
7:00 pm

joe walking in the building with a box of “plaoff” jordans 12s

JSS

April 20th, 2012
7:08 pm

Put ‘em out of their misery Hawks! I want to enjoy my visit to Tuesday night’s game in the peace of knowing that Boston will be coming here for Game 1!

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2012
7:11 pm

For the record, AJC also going without one starter tonight (Cunningham has day off).

Luke Cage

April 20th, 2012
7:11 pm

Please not a repeat of the depleted Heat game from earlier

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2012
7:11 pm

Celtics lead 2-0. Nooooooooooooooooooooo!

Luke Cage

April 20th, 2012
7:11 pm

oh yeah, SWEET CHRISTMAS!!

Luke Cage

April 20th, 2012
7:12 pm

Too many celts fans tonight

Hard In The Paint Like Josh Smith

April 20th, 2012
7:13 pm

this the type of game teague should go off

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2012
7:16 pm

Hawks lead 13-7. There’s this little hesitation any time somebody on Boston scores, as PA guy looks up number.

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2012
7:19 pm

I wonder if these are the starting Celtics fans or their backups. Hard to tell. Both obnoxious.

JSS

April 20th, 2012
7:19 pm

There’s never a bad day to kick the Celtics! Act like it is the 78-79 Celts and wear them out!!!

RC

April 20th, 2012
7:20 pm

Enter your comments here

Sonny Clusters

April 20th, 2012
7:22 pm

That line about backup fans was a good one. When we was working at the paper our backup was Piney Woods Pete but he was ornery.

RC

April 20th, 2012
7:23 pm

I laugh when the “national media” just assumes the Celtics will just roll over the hawks. Not so fast Hawks handle Celtics in six

JSS

April 20th, 2012
7:23 pm

Where’s Paddy, Sage of Blueland, and 5150 to tell us how irrelevant the NBA is?

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2012
7:23 pm

Oh my God — Jason Collins has 7 points in the first quarter. That ties his season high, which was other night vs. Detroit.

DawgNole

April 20th, 2012
7:27 pm

RC
April 20th, 2012
7:23 pm

I laugh when the “national media” just assumes the Celtics will just roll over the hawks. Not so fast Hawks handle Celtics in six
________________________

Now why in the world would the dumb ol’ “national media” just “assume” that the Celtics will roll over the Hawks in the playoffs? Has it ever happened before? What’s the history of the series between the two teams? How do the Hawks perform in big games? On national TV? How many championships have the Celtics won? How many have the Hawks won?

Dumb ol’ “national media.” How could they do such a thing.

JSS

April 20th, 2012
7:27 pm

Cluster’s are their any knees that need some base out their on the floor tonight? I was almost tempted to buy Chipper some of those “As seen on TV compression hoses” last night!

JSS

April 20th, 2012
7:29 pm

Hawks only championship came against the Celts…

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2012
7:29 pm

JSS — Now why you gotta go and bang on Chipper in a Hawks blog? You’re just a big meanie.

Hard In The Paint Like Josh Smith

April 20th, 2012
7:32 pm

kirk just dribblin the ball around doing nothing

rob

April 20th, 2012
7:32 pm

Bradley figures to be a thorn in the Hawks side come playoff time

JSS

April 20th, 2012
7:33 pm

Hawks are actually only 10 games below .500 against the Celtics since moving to Atlanta in the playoffs 12-22… They were 3 games below in St. Louis 11-14…

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2012
7:34 pm

Celtics make a late-quarter run, Hawks lead by 7 34-27 after 1. Joe with 12, Josh 8, Collins 7. Avery Bradley w/12 for Celtics.

JSS

April 20th, 2012
7:35 pm

I was actually trying to ease ol’ Hoss’s pain!

Wink

April 20th, 2012
7:36 pm

Celts not playing top seven, win or lose, it’s a win for the Celts.

The top seven all looking in on their respective match ups trying to key on tendencies.

The Celts subs get to see what they can and can not do against our starters which makes their bench more confident when playoff start.

The Hawks are leading here in the firtst quarter, he should pull the starter, so they don’t lose any confidence against Celts subs.

Already the Hawks defense is letting Celts back into the game 34 / 27. Play our bench, let them get their confidence against these Celtic subs. No doubt we have a better bench, but in a playoff series, one to two players off the bench can make a big difference in the outcome.

Coach Conner is echoing my thoughts about the defense, he’s not happy with 7 point lead.

rob

April 20th, 2012
7:36 pm

Atlanta is such a late arriving crowd

DawgNole

April 20th, 2012
7:38 pm

JSS
April 20th, 2012
7:33 pm

Hawks are actually only 10 games below .500 against the Celtics since moving to Atlanta in the playoffs 12-22…
_____________________

ONLY 10 games below .500?!

ONLY???!!!

That’s the mentality/history of ATL pro teams.

rob

April 20th, 2012
7:40 pm

Hawks seeking homecourt, got to get there wins at home when we get the chance