The final five minutes of games continue to be a nightmare for the Boston Celtics, who watched a nine-point lead evaporate late in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks and absorbed their ninth straight loss with a 105-97 defeat at Phillips Arena:
The nitty gritty
Jeff Teague scored a team-high 19 points to pace six Atlanta players in double figures, while Kyle Korver added 17 while catching fire beyond the arc to help spark a fourth-quarter rally. Avery Bradley, back after a three-game absence, scored a game-high 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting to pace the Celtics. Rajon Rondo registered 19 points, 12 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals over a team-high 40:44.
Turning Point I: Digging out of early hole
The Hawks scored 12 of the game's first 14 points and needed just four minutes to build a double-digit lead. That advantage went as high as 14 (the Hawks shot a ridiculous 77.8 percent in the first quarter) and that's where it was midway through the second quarter before Boston started chipping away. Rondo hit a 3-pointer to close out the first half and pull the Celtics within five and Boston would tie the game little more than two minutes into the third quarter.
Turning Point II: This time Hawks rally
The Celtics were up nine after a Rondo free throw with 5:44 to play in the fourth quarter. The Hawks embarked on a furious 10-0 run over the next two minutes and a Korver 3-pointer with 3:42 to go pushed Atlanta out front 90-89. Jared Sullinger answered with a triple of his own to push Boston back out front, but the Celtics inexplicably left Korver open in the corner the next trip down and he made them pay by igniting a 9-0 burst and a DeMarre Carroll layup left the Hawks up seven with 73 seconds to go.
Bradley missed the last three games with a right Achilles strain, but showed no rust in his first game back. He made half of his beyond the arc (going a perfect 4-for-4). Bradley added four rebounds, two assists, and three steals over 34:49.
The game featured only four lead changes and one tie despite the swings. ... The Hawks shot 52.6 percent overall (40 of 76) and Korver's final-quarter outburst helped them finish at 39.1 percent beyond the arc for the game. ... Boston shot 44 percent from the field (37 of 84), but a glossy 46.2 percent (12 of 26) from beyond the 3-point line. ... The Celtics were playing without Kris Humphries (knee). ... Chris Babb was a healthy DNP. ... Chris Johnson rebounded from one of his worse outings to provide a nice spark off the bench with 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting and was a team-best plus-8 in plus/minus.
What it means
The Celtics (23-55) lost their ninth straight game and 14th in 15 tries. The silver lining: Coupled with Orlando's win over Brooklyn, the Celtics are now tied with the Magic for the third-worst record in basketball with four games to play. A win would have thrust Boston into a tie with Utah for the fourth-worst record. The Celtics will take Thursday off before launching into a back-to-back that starts Friday night with a visit from the Charlotte Bobcats.