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Hawks flounder down the stretch in 113-105 loss to Celtics

It was good for three quarters.

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

The NBA season is grueling and, over the course of 82 games, the Atlanta Hawks encounter only three breaks of three-plus days. One of those arrives in the form of the week-long All-Star break but another came this week, when Lloyd Pierce’s team enjoyed a nice reprieve on the heels of a fantastic win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, all periods of rest must come to an end and on Saturday evening, the Hawks welcomed the Boston Celtics to State Farm Arena.

Though it was an entertaining 48-minute contest with shifts in momentum, the end result was one that wasn’t favorable for the Hawks. Atlanta led for the vast majority of the evening but, when the final buzzer sounded, Boston escaped with a 113-105 victory.

The evening started in favorable fashion for the home team, with a 10-0 run in the opening minutes to assert control. As usual, John Collins was prominently involved.

Atlanta scored 20 points in the first 4:30 of the evening, opening 8 of 10 from the floor, and Trae Young capped another spurt with a finish of his own to prompt a Boston timeout.

Shortly thereafter, Kevin Huerter capped a 7-0 run by the Hawks to take a 13-point lead and, in general, the offense was humming.

After exploding for 10 assists in the first quarter, Atlanta’s offense wasn’t done, using a 10-2 run to take a 14-point lead early in the second quarter and scoring 50 (!) points in the first 15 minutes. Perhaps the best example of ball movement occurred on a play that ended in a Huerter triple after beautiful passing.

As you may expect, the Celtics did recover to some degree, using a 12-2 run to slash Atlanta’s lead. The Hawks did bounce back to take a seven-point lead into the halftime break, however, and Collns (12 points, eight rebounds) and Huerter (13 points) led the way in that effort.

The second half was largely uneventful for the first four-plus minutes but, with 7:35 to go in the third quarter, fireworks arrived. Celtics guard Marcus Smart and Hawks swingman DeAndre’ Bembry were hit with technical fouls and, for Smart, it was his second of the evening. That sent the former lottery pick to an automatic ejection but, shortly after, Smart charged in Bembry’s direction and had to be restrained, causing a video review and a lengthy delay.

When the dust settled, the Hawks held the same seven-point lead that they did at halftime and, in many ways, it served as something of a reset. Atlanta and Boston played to a virtual draw in the third quarter (with neither team cracking 40 percent shooting) and that allowed the Hawks to take a six-point lead into the fourth quarter.

There were some encouraging moments, though, including one from rookie big man Omari Spellman.

Still, the Hawks were not able to put space between themselves and the Celtics and that came into play early in the closing period. Boston opened the fourth quarter with a 14-4 run to take the lead at 97-93 and only Vince Carter was able to score for Atlanta in the first four minutes of action.

Mercifully, the drought came to an end with Young connecting on a much-needed three.

That wasn’t enough to lead the recovery effort, though, as Boston was the better team in the final minutes. Alex Len had a nice stretch with four straight points but, aside from that, Atlanta’s offense stagnated greatly and the Celtics simply out-executed the Hawks down the stretch.

In fact, the home team didn’t score a single point for more than four minutes and, even as the Celtics failed to really put the pedal to the floor, that dry spell was enough to ensure defeat. Boston provided a dagger on a Kyrie Irving left-handed floater with less than 90 seconds remaining and the final margin settled at eight points.

Individually, there were some encouraging performances from the Hawks. Collins continued his impressive productivity with 15 points and 11 rebounds, with Huerter (18 points, seven assists) and Len (15 points, six rebounds) assisting in the effort.

After a day off on Sunday, the Hawks will return to action on Monday afternoon for a face-off with the Orlando Magic on MLK Day. Stay tuned.