Celtics host Hawks, seek eighth straight victory
BOSTON — Celtics coach Brad Stevens has to count heads in his locker room before every game to see who is available for that game.
But regardless of who is in and who is out, Boston has won seven straight games heading into Friday night’s home game against the Atlanta Hawks.
“The hallmark of this group has been whoever’s available plays and is counted on to do what they’re supposed to,” Stevens said after Wednesday night’s 130-125 overtime victory at Washington. “Not everybody had their best night, but everybody did their jobs and kept adding value when they checked in. They played whatever role they were asked to and gave us a chance to win.”
The Celtics, who have exploded after a 10-10 start, were without Al Horford (resting sore knee), Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown (illness) on Wednesday. They pulled the game out when Kyrie Irving scored his team’s last 12 points, including a 31-foot 3-pointer that followed a trey shot inches from his bench.
“We’ve seen Kyrie do that on multiple occasions,” Marcus Smart said. “But to see it again in person — every day we see that is something that is jaw-dropping for us.”
Smart, who had 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals, played his usual pesky game at guard and even spent some time at the five as Stevens juggled his roster — in a game that saw the Celtics hit all 25 of their free throws.
Irving has played six of the seven games in the streak, averaging 24.8 points and 7.2 assists, going 21-for-47 from 3-point range and compiling a plus-116.
Horford will not play Friday when Boston returns home to face a struggling Hawks team that has lost five of its last six to fall to 6-21 on the season. Atlanta lost 114-107 in Dallas on Wednesday.
Rookie Trae Young playing against Luka Doncic — the two were traded for each other on draft night — on Wednesday. They each scored 24 points with Young recording 10 assists and Doncic grabbing 10 rebounds.
The Hawks’ John Collins scored 20 points and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds Wednesday. He has had five straight double-doubles, averaging 23.8 points and 13 rebounds per game over that span. In his 12 games since starting his season after injury, he is averaging 18.3 points and 9.0 rebounds. He had career highs in points in four straight games before settling for 20 on Wednesday.
Asked about his big man, coach Lloyd Pierce said: “It’s a weird thing to say. We’ll run our dribble stuff for Baze (Kent Bazemore). We’ll run stack stuff for Kev (Kevin Huerter). I don’t have anything for John. He makes our offense work. It’s not really for him, but if the defense messes up, he’s the easiest guy to find because he’s at the rim. The action really isn’t for him, but he makes it work.”
Said Collins, who is in his second year: “I’ve always taken pride in trying to catch the ball. I felt like that was an important thing for guards to trust the big fella when they give them the ball — that you can catch and finish. I think that’s real big for the trust between you and your guards.”
The Celtics defeated the Hawks 114-96 in Atlanta on Nov. 23, with Aron Baynes leading six players in double figures with 16 points while adding a team-high nine rebounds. Young scored only five points and was a minus-35.