Boston jumped out to a 45-39 halftime lead behind an efficient transition offense that led to 14 fast break points and 7-12 shooting from behind the arc. Atlanta came out of the locker room energized, though, and outscored Boston 29-15 in a game-changing third quarter.
Paul Pierce briefly brought Boston back to life with 9 fourth quarter points, but every time the Celtics pulled close, Hawks sixth man Crawford had the answer. Pierce finished with a game-high 21 points, (also adding 6 rebounds and 5 assists), while Crawford led the Hawks with 18 points.
In a compelling matchup of young big men, both Al Horford (16 pts, 10 rebs) and Kendrick Perkins (15 pts, 14 rebs) posted double-doubles, while Hawk guard Mike Bibby (17 pts, 7 asts) and Rajon Rondo (11pts, 10 asts, 5 rebs) also played each other evenly.
Ultimately, the game came down to who would shoot better, and the hometown Hawks held the advantage, shooting 49.4% to Boston’s 40.8%.
Boston forward Rasheed Wallace, starting for the injured Kevin Garnett, probably cost the Celtics the game with his lazy play on both sides of the ball. Wallace had trouble guarding Josh Smith (15 pts, 11 rebs), who had a few key offensive rebounds late in the game, and settled for outside shots, finishing 5-15 shooting, 1-8 from 3′s. Wallace grabbed only 3 rebounds.
Atlanta improves to 23-12 with the win (2-0 against the C’s), while Boston falls to 25-9. Boston finished its mini road trip with a game in Toronto against the Raptors on Sunday.