BOSTON — There was a lot to like about the Celtics’ 2015-16 season. Just not how it ended.
The Celtics couldn’t shake their offensive woes Thursday night in a win-or-go-home Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden. The result was another lopsided contest, with one last Boston comeback falling short in a 104-92 loss that vaulted the Hawks into the second round and sent the C’s packing with their second first-round playoff exit in two seasons.
Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas did all he could, tallying a game-high 25 points and 10 assists despite a constant wave of Hawks double teams. Jae Crowder contributed 15 points before fouling out, while Jonas Jerebko and Marcus Smart each added 13 points for a Celtics team that shot just 36 percent from the field and made just 22 percent of its 3-pointers.
Paul Millsap led Atlanta with 17 points, as all five Hawks starters reached double figures and Dennis Schröder added 12 points off the bench.
Here’s how Boston’s last game of the season played out:
Thomas, Evan Turner, Crowder, Jerebko, Amir Johnson
As they did in Game 5, the Hawks double-teamed Thomas out of the gate and forced his teammates to make shots.
Jerebko certainly stepped up to the challenge, scoring the Celtics’ first five points and hitting another 3-pointer late in the first quarter to give him eight by the first break.
The rest of his teammates struggled, however. The Celtics went a stretch of four full minutes without a field goal and shot just 29 percent from the field in the frame.
The Hawks blocked five Celtics shots in the period and held a slim lead after one quarter.
CATCHING A COLD
Atlanta’s stingy defense clamped down on Boston’s mightily struggling offense in the second quarter.
The Hawks continued to bottle up Thomas, content with leaving the other Celtics open for uncontested shots. That strategy worked, as Boston made just six field goals over a 12-minute span and went 0 for 9 in the quarter to finish with just 33 first-half points.
Yet Atlanta didn’t exactly light it up, either, making just eight field goals in the frame for 21 points. Crowder’s emphatic dunk temporarily brought the Garden crowd back to life at the 4:24 mark of the frame, and four consecutive points from Thomas cut what was a double-digit deficit to eight by halftime.
The Celtics still couldn’t buy a bucket in the second half, and their frustration finally boiled over as the Hawks pulled away.
Atlanta started the third quarter on a 14-4 run, thanks to 3-pointers from Kyle Korver and Al Horford to balloon their lead to 19 points. That run featured Crowder angrily stalking to the bench after picking up his fifth foul, and minutes later, Thomas was hit with a technical foul after arguing with a referee.
The Celtics kept fighting, as Smart scored nine points in the final six minutes of the quarter and rookie guard Terry Rozier hit a 3-pointer to cut the Hawks’ lead to 14. But Atlanta responded in kind, turning a careless Smart pass into a Mike Scott 3-pointer as part of 7-0 run to end the frame.
As is typical of this group, the Celtics fought to the end.
Once trailing by 28 points, the C’s roared back in the fourth quarter, getting a trio 3-pointers from Crowder and several Thomas buckets to pull within just 10. But Millsap stopped the bleeding with a layup and the foul with under two minutes remaining, ultimately sealing Atlanta’s win.
PLAY OF THE NIGHT
Jerebko brought the Garden crowd to its feet with a massive block on Schröder late in the first quarter.
A long offseason. The Celtics end their 2015-16 campaign with a total record of 51-38, while the Hawks go on to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images