By A. Sherrod Blakely
ATLANTA Too many times to count Friday night, the Boston Celtics would follow the defensive game plan to near perfection.
They forced the Atlanta Hawks to take shots that they didn't necessarily want to take. And most of those shots were contested.
Funny thing happened after most of those shot clanged off the rim, though -- they wound up back in the hands of Hawks players who more often than not, converted those second-chance opportunities into points.
And when the final horn sounded, the Boston Celtics found themselves on the short end of an 88-83 loss.
The skidding Celtics, losers of four of their last six games, are known as a physical basketball team.
But the Hawks became the latest opponent to play the role of aggressor against Boston.
"We got crushed," said coach Doc Rivers, who repeated the "crushed" reference two more times in case anyone missed it. "We got absolutely crushed on the glass tonight. Our guys played with effort. I think they want to play. Atlanta was just better."
The Celtics were minus-14 on the boards against Atlanta, and minus-11 when you just looked at offensive rebounds.
Although Boston held the Hawks to just 36.7 percent shooting, all those multiple shot opportunities they got essentially negated what had been a number of otherwise solid defensive efforts.
"We have to be a better rebounding team," said Paul Pierce. "Especially if you play great defense for 19, 20, 22 seconds and the ball goes up, you gotta be able to get those rebounds. That really bit us in the butt tonight."
And it's a trend that'll keep giving them fits until they fix it.
The idea that the return of Shaquille O'Neal, which may happen as early as Sunday, can certainly help along those lines.
But Rivers isn't banking on O'Neal coming back being what rights all the wrongs of the C's.
"Let's not make . . . we have no saviors," Rivers said. "We have to save ourselves. Clearly another big body would help. Jermaine O'Neal playing three or four more games will help. But at the end of the day, all of us have to get on the glass and I didn't think we did that tonight."