By A. Sherrod Blakely
ATLANTA It was only fitting that the final made basket was by the Atlanta Hawks, and it came on an offensive rebound put-back.
It was that kind of game for the Boston Celtics, whose struggles in the second game of back-to-backs continued with Friday's 88-83 loss to the Hawks.
After a 6-2 start in the second game of back-to-backs, Boston (52-23) has now lost eight of its last nine such games.
"It's the same prescription for us in back-to-backs," said coach Doc Rivers.
The game's control seemed to change in the third quarter when the Celtics built a 12-point lead.
Boston had ample opportunities to increase the margin, but failed to get it done.
Big mistake by the Green team.
"We had a chance to go from 11 up to 18 up in my opinion," Rivers said. "We took horrible shots on one end, and get lax on the other end and it became a game."
Just like that, the Hawks not only had trimmed Boston's lead down to just six points.
But even more important they had momentum, which is a tough thing to shut down, even if it's on the road in a arena that had arguably as many of your fans as the home team's followers.
The improved play by the Hawks in the third quarter carried into the fourth, which began with Atlanta going on a 20-7 run that set the stage for Boston losing for the fourth time in its last six games.
Atlanta center Zaza Pachulia had 15 points and 10 rebounds, including a pair of clutch free throws with 36 seconds to play.
"Zaza Pachulia, the substitution of him changed the game," Rivers said. "He was the toughest dude on the floor."
Pachulia's ability to generate multiple possessions with his hustle, effort and ability to get loose balls - and even make balls loose like the time he snatched the ball out of Kevin Garnett's hands on a play that ultimately led to a foul by Paul Pierce.
"That was a great move by them," Rivers said. "We had a chance in the third quarter to stretch the game. We didn't. They got back in the game. Now the back-to-back comes into play."
Following the loss, Pierce was the first Celtics player to speak to the media.
And while there were plenty of plays and moments on Friday in which the Celtics simply did not play well, the third quarter stood out among the others in his mind.
"I thought we settled," he said. "We took a lot of jumpers there, and we could have pushed the lead to about 15, I think. Because we were getting stops all night."
But those defensive stops weren't enough, evident by the Atlanta's ability to to outscore the Celtics, 18-2, in second-chance points.
"We have to be a better rebounding team, especially if you play great defense for 19, 20, 22 seconds and the ball goes up, you gotta be able to get those rebounds," Pierce said. "That really bit us in the butt tonight."
While Pachulia's play was key, he wasn't the only Hawks backup making an impact.
Jamal Crawford who is once again among the NBA's top sixth men, had a team-high 20 points off the bench for the Hawks.
"The game ball goes to both Pachulia and Jamal Crawford tonight," said Hawks first-year coach Larry Drew. "Both guys came off the bench and did what we look for from them to do when they come in the game."
And the Celtics players, both starters and backups, continue to play both well and woeful in spurts.
While it's certainly one of those things that happens over the course of a season, Boston's struggles seem to be more pronounced in the second game of back-to-back sets of games.
"Back-to-back is part of the NBA," said Garnett. "It has been since I've been in the league, so that's no excuse. Either we can quit and go home, or we can continue to get better. There's no history of quitting in this team, so we'll just move forward."