Final, Celtics win 94-87: Believe it or not, that’s not a typo.
The Celtics snapped their six-game losing streak by taking down a pretty good team in the Hawks. Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass did the dirty work against Atlanta’s skilled front line of Al Horford and Paul Millsap, and Jordan Crawford brought home the victory down the stretch.
The Celtics were all over the glass against one of the NBA’s better rebounding clubs, winning the overall rebounding battle 47-38. After freely giving away the ball for three quarters, the Celtics got stingy with it in the fourth, committing just two turnovers when it mattered.
Bass led the Celtics (5-10) with 17 points, including eight big buckets to help the Celtics take or protect their lead. Crawford netted 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter and added 10 assists, while Sullinger put up a now-typical 15 points and nine rebounds. Horford was the leading scorer for the Hawks (8-6) with 18 points, while Jeff Teague had 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
Fourth quarter, :35.6, Celtics 93-87: The Celtics’ six-game losing streak appears to be a thing of the past. Stevens drew up a play out of the timeout that led to a Green football pass to Bass, who was fouled and knocked down both free throws.
Fourth quarter, :37, Celtics 91-87: Crawford has been massive in this fourth quarter with 10 points since we disparaged him. He’s up to 12 points and 10 assists total, including the aforementioned floater.
The Celtics looked in position to close this one out until Horford hit a long jumper to pull the Hawks within four points. The referees reviewed, since a three would pull the Hawks within one possession, but it looked like Horford’s toe was on the line.
Fourth quarter, :58, Celtics 90-85: Bass carried the Celtics into the lead at the free throw line, Crawford knifed through the lane to drop in the floater to extend the Celtics’ lead to five points, but Green made the winning play — if the Celtics indeed end up winning.
Green battled with Millsap on a would-be Atlanta defensive rebound, forcing Millsap to lose the ball out of bounds. The Celtics possession gave Crawford a chance for his runner.
Fourth quarter, 3:35, Hawks 83-82: Quietly, Courtney Lee is having a nice bounceback campaign from what he openly admits was a frustrating 2012-13 season. He is shooting 51 percent from the field, by far his best mark in his career, and he drained a free throw line jumper to pull the Celtics within one point.
Fourth quarter, 5:55, Hawks 81-78: Bass has played fairly well in a starting role this season. The problem is, he hasn’t been as good as Sullinger.
Returning to the starting lineup for one night, Bass has put up 11 points so far, including a driving left-handed dunk over Millsap. Crawford followed Bass’ highlight with a pair of free throws to cut Boston’s deficit to a single possession.
The Celtics have made their mistakes, such as Jeff Green committing an unforgivable carrying violation while bringing the ball up the court when the Celtics had a chance to pull within two or tie the game, but considering the putrid third quarter, getting this close is an accomplishment for the Celtics.
Fourth quarter, 7:33, Hawks 81-75: There aren’t two weirder stat lines than Faverani’s and Crawford’s. Faverani has 11 points and five rebounds, yet he hasn’t played particularly well. Ditto for Crawford, who has nine assists.
Faverani has logged just 10 minutes because despite scoring some points, he’s been a mess on the defensive end. Sullinger and Bass have been much better. Meanwhile, Crawford is 0-for-5 from the field and has committed a tema-high four turnovers, so his playmaking is his only contribution to the offense.
End of third quarter, Hawks 74-64: One bad quarter. The Celtics just can’t seem to avoid it.
While this third quarter wasn’t nearly as disastrous as Friday’s, in which they scored eight points, it wasn’t pretty. Jeff Teague, Atlanta’s ever-improving point guard, made a mockery of Boston’s backcourt at both ends.
Teague operated the pick and roll with Horford and Millsap, leading to a pair of teardrops in the lane and two assists for the Wake Forest product. He then read a telegraphed pass by Jeff Green, intercepted it in stride and sped down the other end to drop a behind-the-back dime to Cartier Martin for a dunk.
The Celtics were outscored 21-15 in the third and committed six turnovers, preventing them from competing despite holding the Hawks to 36 percent shooting. It also didn’t help that the Celtics shot 27 percent themselves.
Third quarter, 5:42, Hawks 62-59: Jared Sullinger is putting together another solid game with 12 points and six assists, plus strong defense on Al Horford. But he’s lucky he didn’t just get the heave-ho.
Sullinger came down hard on DeMarre Carroll with two hands, then gave Caroll an extra shove to the back of the head with his hand as Carroll went for a layup on the break. The refs reviewed the play and only gave Sullinger a flagrant one, which means no ejection.
That was probably the right call, but it was too close for the Celtics to risk losing their best player — because that is what Sullinger is right now. Two nights in a row, he has now helped corral Roy Hibbert and Horford, proving this is no fluke.
Halftime, Hawks 53-49: Thanksgiving is approaching, but for the Celtics, this is Groundhog Day.
In a repeat of Friday’s loss to Indiana, the Celtics are again turning the ball over like there’s no tomorrow, but are overcoming their carelessness by shooting well. They are shooting 50 percent from the field, which has helped them survive despite nine turnovers while giving up 10 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint.
Millsap and Horford have 10 points apiece, and Vitor Faverani and Sullinger aren’t doing a considerably good job defensively. Sullinger does have nine points, but he’ll also have to live down being on Millsap’s poster. Jordan Crawford, fresh off his 19-point first half on Friday, is scoreless but has eight assists.
Jeff Green leads all scorers with 13 points. We’ll see if he can keep that up in the second half, or if he gets slowed down like he did against the Pacers. Then we’ll really know it’s Groundhog Day.
Second quarter, 2:55, Hawks 46-42: Paul Millsap’s always been an excellent player, but we never saw him do anything in seven years in Utah like he just did to Sullinger.
Millsap got the ball on the right baseline, pump-faked his defender, took one dribble and leaped off two feet for a tomahawk dunk over Sullinger. Sully is having a heck of a game, but that video is likely to last for years on YouTube.
Second quarter, 5:10, game tied 38-38: There isn’t much of a crowd in Atlanta, or if there is, it’s very quiet. That may be why the Hawks are susceptible to lulls in games and in seasons — and why the Celtics went through a lull to begin the second quarter.
Sullinger has helped to get the Celtics back on track with a couple of tough hook shots, both of which came against a taller defender. How Sullinger gets that shot off is a mystery. How it goes in is Sherlock Holmes-level mysterious.
Second quarter, 8:48, Hawks 32-27: Brad Stevens is probably wishing he hadn’t taught Shelvin Mack so well.
Mack, who played for Stevens at Butler before bouncing around the D-League and NBA a little bit, has scored five points in three minutes to help the Hawks take the lead. As with Friday’s loss to the Pacers, the Celtics have fallen back to earth after a hot-shooting start, and they’re not doing enough in other areas to make up for it.
The Celtics shot 11-for-21 in the first quarter, but they’ve hit just one of their four shots in the second.
End of first quarter, Celtics 25-24: With Olynyk out, there are minutes to come by for Kris Humphries. And Humphries is doing what he always does, no matter how many rebounds he plays: He rebounds.
Humphries has three boards in five minutes to help the Celtics stay close with the Hawks on the glass, 9-11, respectively. The Hawks are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the NBA, which makes it that much more important for the Celtics to protect their own defensive glass. Basically, the Celtics can’t afford to give the Hawks any extra scoring chances, because the Celtics won’t be getting any themselves.
First quarter, 5:57, Celtics 13-9: Jared Sullinger isn’t lighting it up from downtown this season, but he’s sticking with it.
Sullinger, who shoots 24 percent on 3-point attempts, fired up a triple on the Celtics’ first possession and made it. That started a run of five straight makes for the Celtics, who then missed their next three shots.
Regardless, the Celtics have done a good job of finding good shots, such as Jeff Green’s backdoor layup, while limiting touches for Al Horford, who has just two points on two shots thus far.
6:15 p.m.: Kelly Olynyk admitted he had no idea how severe his sprained ankle might be after Friday’s game against the Pacers. Olynyk had to leave the Celtics’ 97-82 loss with what he described as a “middle” ankle sprain, because he was unsure whether it was high or low.
It turns out Olynyk’s sprain, wherever it is, was enough for the Celtics to leave the rookie at home. Olynyk did not travel to Atlanta and Brandon Bass will start in his place, multiple reporters on site in Atlanta have tweeted.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Olynyk will be out two weeks, according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.
Stevens says Olynyk out 2 wks w/ankle. Bass starts in his place tonight, with Sullinger, Green, Bradley and Crawford.—
Steve Bulpett (@SteveBHoop) November 23, 2013
The Celtics will be undersized without Olynyk or Vitor Faverani, who has alternated with Olynyk at center, in the starting lineup. Bass has been the Celtics’ best defensive post player and Jared Sullinger has been the Celtics’ best player overall, but neither has the length to play center for a full game.
Fortunately for the Celtics, the Hawks do not utilize a true center, either. Al Horford, a natural power forward, plays the pivot, with 6-foot-8 forward Mike Scott coming off the bench. This is a welcome respite for the Celtics after a tough stretch of facing some of the toughest centers in the NBA, although they would probably rather do so with a healthy Olynyk. Also, Horford is no slouch, averaging 17.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: Either the Hawks are a lot better at putting together a decent, lower-cost basketball team, or the Celtics are just much better at tanking.
The Celtics (4-10) will try to end their six-game losing streak with a visit to the Highlight Factory on Saturday. The Hawks (7-5) continued the dismantling of a roster that was once all flash, little substance last offseason by letting Josh Smith sign with Detroit, and they looked like geniuses on Friday. Smith, who spent his first nine seasons in Atlanta, was shut out in his rematch with his old club, going scoreless in 20 minutes of action.
Paul Millsap has replaced Smith and has been a competent frontcourt match with Al Horford, the Hawks’ long-underrated franchise player. The Hawks have won five of their last seven games after a 2-3 start to the season.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.