Celts crumble in 4th, drop ninth straight

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BOSTON (AP) – Joe Johnson and Josh Smith each scored 21 points as the Atlanta Hawks handed the Boston Celtics their ninth straight loss, 82-76 Wednesday night.

The Celtics have dropped 16 of their last 18 and are tied with Philadelphia for fewest wins in the Eastern Conference at 12.

Zaza Pachulia added 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench for Atlanta, which snapped a three-game losing streak and has won both meetings with Boston this season.

Boston, already without leading scorers Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak, also lost Al Jefferson due to an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.

Atlanta opened the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run and took a 66-62 lead on a Johnson fadeaway jumper with 7:13 remaining in the game. Rajon Rondo sank two free throws 23 seconds later and ended a Celtics drought of 8:20 without a point.

Johnson scored six straight points to cap the Hawks’ 18-4 run that cut the Celtics’ lead to 57-53 with 4 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Smith had 13 points in the period.

Jefferson finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds and has averaged 23 points and 15 rebounds over the last three games.

Kendrick Perkins had a season-high 15 points and 12 rebounds for Boston, whose losing streak is its longest in seven years.

Perkins scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the first half as the Celtics led 44-29 at the break. The 29 points tied a season-low for the Hawks.

Atlanta missed its first eight shots and started the game 1-for-17 from the floor as they trailed 28-10 at the end of the first.

Notes: Brian Scalabrine returned to the Celtics active roster after missing six games with a bruised knee. … Smith was 0-for-6 in the first quarter. … Atlanta has three road victories this season and has averaged 82 points over the last four games. … Boston has dropped eight straight at home.

AP-ES-01-24-07 2247EST

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