Celtics hand Hawks 89-81 defeat after strong second half

The Atlanta Hawks (20-12) fell to the Boston Celtics (16-17) 89-81 Saturday, Jan. 5 after holding a 19-point lead up until the third quarter of the game.

Led by Rajon Rondo’s triple-double of 14 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds and Paul Pierce’s 26 points, the Celtics played a stronger second half to walk out of Philips Arena with a victory.

Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett also contributed with double figures as they scored 10 and 14 points respectively.

“This was, probably for me, the most disappointing loss of the season,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “We played against a team that we have battled in the past and we’ve seen this type of scenario before where we played well and then when it starts getting a little bit more physical, when it starts to get a little bit rougher, we don’t respond. And that was clearly what happened tonight.”

The Hawks had a strong first half, where they ended with a 15-point lead. Lou Williams had 21 points and Jeff Teague’s ended the half with 13.

However, in the second half, their 14 turnovers, poor shot selection and Boston’s effort led by Pierce’s 17 points, gave the Celtics their first lead of the game 61-60. From then on, the visiting team did not take its foot off the accelerator and extended the Hawks’ deficit to 11.

“They got on a run and we couldn’t stop the bleed,” Drew said. “Playing a team that has that much pride, you have to know that that team has no quit, that team is not going to go away. And we did not respond after.”

One of the issues that Drew showed concern with after the game was the mental strength of his players, which he attributes to be one of the main reasons for this loss.

“We have to be mentally strong to be able to handle when a team does go on a run,” Drew said. “We have to be mentally able to not fragment at that time. You can’t compound things. You can’t start turning the basketball over. You can’t start having bad shot selection. You can’t continue to have defensive breakdowns.”

Williams paced the Hawks with 28 points, followed by Teague with 17, Josh Smith with 12 and Kyle Korver with nine.

The Hawks bench was also not up to par unlike previous games — it only contributed with nine points.

DeShawn Stevenson played 12:25 minutes and struggled to hold Pierce off defensively and execute well offensively. He only attempted two shots and had no points. Zaza Pachulia only contributed with two points, Anthony Tolliver with three and Ivan Johnson with four.

The Hawks’ loss against the Celtics will place them in a two-game losing streak that they will attempt to break on Tuesday, Jan. 8 against the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road.