Game Preview: Hawks at Celtics
The Atlanta Hawks cruised to a ninth straight win with three starters taking the night off in the first of a back-to-back set.
With Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll likely to be back, a 10th also could come easily Wednesday night in Boston before their four-game road trip moves to more demanding environments.
Atlanta matched its season-best winning streak with a 105-87 victory Tuesday in Philadelphia, earning it a franchise-best ninth consecutive road win.
The Hawks (30-8) last won 10 straight in a single season when they began the 1997-98 campaign with 11 straight victories., and they're leading the Eastern Conference this late in the season for the first time since earning the No. 1 seed in 1993-94.
Atlanta is an NBA-best 23-2 dating to Nov. 28, and Tuesday's win was the latest impressive defensive effort as it limited Philadelphia to 40.8 percent shooting. During the 25-game span, the Hawks have held opponents to a league-low 93.0 points per game and 42.3 percent.
Offensively, Atlanta continued its 3-point assault with a 12-for-23 effort to boost its percentage to 49.6 over the last five games. Kyle Korver was 4 of 7 from long range for 15 points.
"It kind of feels like a college team in a lot of ways," said Korver, who has made 12 of 17 from 3 in three games as well as 14 of 18 in his past three games against Boston. "In the NBA, the business side exists. It's on people's minds. But I feel like everyone here has really bought in."
Al Horford, the other starter to play, added an interior dimension with an 8-of-10 night, leading the way with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his first career triple-double.
In addition to Teague, Millsap and Carroll, Pero Antic didn't play for the second time in three games as the team begins a stretch of four games in five nights that concludes against fellow division leaders Toronto and Chicago.
"It's always hard when you're missing some guys," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "You worry maybe about each guy not doing his job and continuing to play within the framework of the team. I thought our guys did, for the most part, a good job of sticking to what they do."
The ever-evolving Celtics (13-23) have dropped nine of 12 but are coming off Monday's 108-100 home win over New Orleans. It was their first game since officially dealing Jeff Green to Memphis, but they've played the last three games without him.
"We have a very young group," said coach Brad Stevens, whose team is 7-4 at home since the start of December. "There's a lot of positives from that and a lot of things we're going to have to grow from."
More changes will be in place Wednesday after Boston acquired Nate Robinson from Denver on Tuesday in exchange for Jameer Nelson. Robinson was with the Celtics for parts of 2009-10 and '10-11. He averaged 5.8 points for Denver this season.
Against the Pelicans, Jared Sullinger had a season-high 27 points and 10 rebounds.
Marcus Smart hit a timely 3-pointer, and though he was limited to seven points, he's seen his 3-point shot come around. Through seven games, Smart connected on 21.4 percent from beyond the arc. In his last 16, he's been good on 42.3 percent.
"That was the biggest knock on my game that I couldn't shoot," said Smart, who has averaged 30 minutes in the last three games without Green after reaching that level twice in his first 20 games. "The last 12, 13 games I think I've been shooting the ball really well."
Smart was injured when the season series opened with a 109-105 Hawks win in Atlanta on Dec. 2. It was their third victory in four meetings, but the Celtics have won five of six in Boston.