Hawks handle C’s


ATLANTA (AP) – The Atlanta Hawks set a bunch of season bests, but it nearly wasn’t enough to win back-to-back games for the first time since the first month of the season.

Atlanta recovered after blowing a 14-point lead and beat short-handed Boston 100-96 on Monday in a game that came down to the final seconds.

Atlanta’s Josh Childress blocked a 3-point attempt by Gerald Green with 3.9 seconds remaining, and Zaza Pachulia made two free throws with 2.1 seconds left to preserve the win.

The Hawks won back-to-back games for the first time since their only previous winning streak of the season – four straight wins from Nov. 3-10. Childress said it shouldn’t have been so difficult to beat a Boston team missing Paul Pierce, Tony Allen and Wally Szczerbiak.

“The thing we really need to get better at is when we have a team down, keep them down,” said Childress, who set season highs with 23 points and 14 rebounds.

The Hawks led 76-62 late in the third quarter but Boston charged back to briefly take the lead in the final period.

“That’s one thing we really need to clean up,” Childress said. “There have been so many other times when that bit us at the end of the game.”

Josh Smith set a career high with five steals and a season high with seven blocked shots. Smith scored 18 points.

Joe Johnson also scored 18 points, including 14 in the second half, and set a season high with nine assists.

Green and Allan Ray each scored 22 points for the Celtics. Green hit a 3-pointer to give Boston an 85-84 lead with 6:25 left in the fourth quarter, their first since leading 3-2.

“We’re in the games but we just can’t get over the hump,” Green said. “We just have to figure out ways to get over the hump. We’re there most of the game, and the last couple of days we’ve had good opportunities to win, but we just can’t close out these games.”

Al Jefferson added 18 points and 17 rebounds for the Celtics.

“There’s not any one guy that’s going to win any game for us right now,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers. “We don’t have any one guy that good. But we have a lot of good guys that when they play together, we can win a game.”

The Celtics have lost five straight games and 12 of 14.

The Celtics were without Pierce for the 13th straight game. Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury on Wednesday.

Rivers said playing with only nine healthy players “is a positive turn for our team in a strange way.

“We’re obviously struggling getting wins, but everyone got experience,” Rivers said.

“The thing I loved, everyone took the shots. If they made them, they made them. If they missed them they missed them. I didn’t see one guy hesitate.”

After Green’s big 3-pointer, the Hawks recovered with a three-point play from Childress, followed by a 3-point shot by Johnson. Boston twice cut Atlanta’s lead back to one point but couldn’t pull even.

Smith scored on a hook shot with 1:46 left to push the lead to 96-93. Following a steal by Pachulia, a two-handed jam by Smith gave Atlanta a 98-93 lead with 1:09 left.

“Everybody hates losing but we’re getting something out of it,” Jefferson said. “You’ve got to get some kind of positive out of a loss.”

Atlanta, boosted by the surprise early return of Smith from a hernia operation this week, still was without its top two point guards – Speedy Claxton (knee) and Tyronn Lue (groin).

Johnson was scoreless until making his first basket with 2:05 left in the first half.

Smith and Childress each had 10 first-half points to keep the Hawks ahead of Boston, which had too little help for Green and Jefferson.

Jefferson picked up his fifth foul with 14 seconds left in the third quarter.

Notes: Szczerbiak (ankle) was listed as active but did not play. … The Celtics’ longest losing streak of the season was six games from Dec. 20-31. … Lorenzen Wright was the late fill-in starter for Pachulia, who was initially listed as a starter and scored 12 points in only 18 minutes.