Celts blow another big lead, lose to Hawks, 92-91

Celts blow another big lead, lose to Hawks, 92-91
December 31, 2013, 12:45 pm
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BOSTON -- If the Celtics hadn't pinpointed a New Year's resolution before Tuesday, they were hit with an obvious choice after their loss to the Hawks just hours before the arrival of 2014: Protect more leads.

The Celtics got out to an 18-point lead in the second quarter and led by as many as 11 in the fourth, but still fell to Atlanta in a New Year's Eve matinee, 92-91.

Behind 34 points and 15 boards from forward Paul Millsap, the Hawks fought back to take a one-point lead with three minutes remaining in the game, 86-85. The game saw six more lead changes -- there were 15 lead changes in the game -- until a pair of free throws by Atlanta guard Jeff Teague gave the Hawks the lead for good. 

The Celtics had a chance to win the game with four seconds left, but Jordan Crawford's off-balance jumper missed.

The silver lining for the Celtics? Kelly Olynyk's ankle looked like it has finally returned to full strength. Just ask the Hawks.

In his best performance since missing 10 games due to a severe ankle sprain, Olynyk finished with a team-high 21 points and five assists, including 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Olynyk averaged just 3.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists in about 13 minutes per games in the six games he played prior to Tuesday's. But against the Hawks, he looked like he had good bounce in his legs from start to finish.

With his help, the Celtics stretched a 69-65 lead at the end of the third quarter into an 85-74 lead in the fourth.

Olynyk wasn't the only Celtics sub to step up, either. Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace and Courtney Lee were all major contributors to a 26-10 Celtics run at the end of the first quarter and start of the second that turned a 12-10 deficit into a 36-22 lead.

Humphries finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds while Lee had 11 points off the bench. 

The Hawks made a 21-2 run between the end of the second quarter and start of the third to take a 45-44 lead after falling behind by double digits in the second quarter.

Here's the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from Boston's final game of 2013.

The second unit: Kelly Olynyk, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Courtney Lee and even Phil Pressey found ways to contribute in a positive fashion for the Celtics. They created havoc on the defensive end by getting their hands in passing lanes and recovering loose balls. And when they got the ball, they ran. A Humphries dunk off of a nice pass from Wallace in transition got the TD Garden on its feet and was the exclamation point on a run that saw the Celtics lead by 14 in the second quarter.

The final play: Jordan Crawford's buzzer-beating attempt won't necessarily have anyone touting Brad Stevens' ability to draw up genius ATOs (after-timeout plays). Crawford dribbled from the top of the key to the right side of the floor and launched on off-balance, contested jump shot. Stevens explained after the game that in situations like that -- at the top of the key with four seconds remaining -- there's not much that can be done other than get the ball in to one of your scorers and hope he can create.

Sullinger's injury: Jared Sullinger rolled around in the painted area -- from his back, to his stomach, to his back again -- as he dealt with the pain of a re-aggravated hand injury that has bothered him for more than a month. Sullinger finished the game with just two points, but he did collect 10 rebounds. Luckily for the C's, he said he didn't expect to miss any time going forward.