Hawks host Celtics in matchup of sliding teams
The Hawks (3-15) have lost nine straight games, a slide that began Nov. 6 and continued Wednesday with a 124-108 loss to Toronto. The Celtics (9-9) have dropped three straight, including 117-109 to the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
The Hawks are a young team that anticipated a difficult season as it rebuilds under first-year coach Lloyd Pierce. The Celtics, however, were expected to be a contender, particularly after finishing second in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season.
Despite a relatively healthy roster — Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are back from injuries — the Celtics have spent the season marking time. Boston is tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference and trail first-place Toronto by 5 1/2 games.
“This is a lot of things,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We have a myriad of issues we have to fix.”
Irving is having another banner year. The Duke product, now in his eighth season, averages 22.4 points, 6.4 assists and 4.9 rebounds. Fellow Blue Devil Jayson Tatum averages 16.1 points and 6.9 rebounds. Marcus Morris (13.9 points, 6.6 rebounds) and Hayward (10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds) are prominent bench players.
But something appears to be wrong with the team and Stevens can’t put his finger on it.
“We’re not playing with the same personality that we did last year and that’s the easy way to describe it and the 50,000 issues are below that,” Stevens said. “I just don’t know that we’re that good. Maybe it’s not a wake-up call if you keep getting beat.”
Boston center Al Horford, who played nine seasons in Atlanta before joining the Celtics as a free agent last year, played Wednesday despite a sore left knee. He wound up playing 35 minutes and is expected to be in the lineup to play the Hawks.
The best news for Atlanta that came out of Wednesday’s loss was Vince Carter’s last-second dunk that gave him 25,000 career points. Carter is the 22nd NBA player to reach the milestone.
Otherwise there were scoring issues. Taurean Prince was the only starter to score in double figures and rookie Trae Young was limited to single digits for the fourth time in the last five games. After a hot start to the season, Young has cooled off and has made only 27 percent from the field over that stretch. He’s still averaging 16.2 points and 8.1 assists, best among NBA rookies.
“I sure hope these are growing pains because these are tough losses to swallow,” Atlanta forward John Collins told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Just to know we did so much and threw it away, shows what we need to work on.”
A bright spot has been the play of veteran point guard Jeremy Lin, who had a season-high 26 points Wednesday and has been in double figures in four of the last five games. His emergence has added fuel to rumors that Lin could be traded.
Boston and Atlanta have not met this season. Boston has won the last two meetings in Atlanta and took three of four meetings with the Hawks last season.