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Disastrous start sinks Hawks in 10th straight defeat, 114-96

It is impossible to survive a first quarter like that one.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

With the Boston Celtics struggling in the recent past and All-Star big man Al Horford out of the lineup, there was reason for (mild) optimism surrounding the Atlanta Hawks and the chances to snap a losing skid on Friday evening. 48 minutes later, however, that optimism had long vanished and the Hawks dropped a 10th straight decision by the final score of 114-96.

The early going was not kind to the Hawks and, in short, the home team put together one of their worst defensive quarters of the season. Boston started the night with a 13-5 run and, in the first six minutes, the visitors scored 20 points on the strength of putrid resistance.

The Celtics then used a 14-2 run to claim a 20-point lead and, while there were a few bright spots, the overall output was brutal on the defensive end. All told, Boston scored 45 points on 64 percent shooting (including 8 of 12 from three) and the Hawks were in a 22-point hole as a result.

Things didn’t immediately improve for Lloyd Pierce and company, as the Celtics scored eight straight points to take a 56-27 lead early in the second quarter. Fortunately, the Hawks did respond, using a 15-3 run to climb back into contention and, when the halftime buzzer sounded, Atlanta was in a more respectable position with only a 16-point deficit.

There wasn’t much to get excited about before halftime but there was a lob connection from Trae Young to John Collins.

Elsewhere, DeAndre’ Bembry provided perhaps the two best highlights of the first 24 minutes, starting with a chase-down block.

Later, Bembry connected on a vicious throw-down in the lane.

Still, the Hawks had their work cut out for them in the second half, trailing by 16 points against one of the league’s best defensive teams. Atlanta also had to face the second half without starting shooting guard Kent Bazemore, who left the game late in the second quarter with a left ankle sprain and did not return.

The opening moments of the third quarter were not kind to Atlanta, as the Celtics zoomed to a 15-2 run to assume total control of the proceedings. The Hawks scored only two points in the first five and a half minutes of the period and, simply put, it was not the start the doctor ordered through the prism of a comeback.

To Atlanta’s credit, though, the home team rattled off 11 straight points and, powered by the bench, climbed within 15 points during the latter stages of the third quarter. Still, it was too little, too late for the Hawks, as the Celtics scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to push the margin to an overwhelming position.

At one point, the Hawks did put together a spurt to shrink Boston’s lead to fewer than 20 points but, as far as a full-fledged threat, nothing ever materialized. In the end, the Celtics cruised to a comfortable win and it was the tenth straight defeat for Atlanta.

Individually, there were a few bright spots for Atlanta, with most coming from the reserves. Jeremy Lin put together a strong night with 19 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and three steals, with Alex Len (17 points), Justin Anderson (12 points) and DeAndre’ Bembry (14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four blocks, two steals) also contributing in a meaningful way. John Collins also produced 16 points and seven rebounds but, in the aggregate, it was a night in which the Hawks simply could not overcome a woeful first quarter.

The Hawks will return to action on Sunday evening, when Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets come to State Farm Arena for a Southeast Division battle. Stay tuned.