All-Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford weren’t the main topic for Celtics coach Doc Rivers when he talked to his team before they played the Hawks on Friday night.
Instead, he was concerned about Hawks reserve guard Jamal Crawford, who had “toasted” the Celtics in the three previous Boston losses to the Hawks.
“He owns us,” Rivers told his team.
Kendrick Perkins, Boston’s tough-guy center, took that as a call to action against Crawford.
“We put a hit out on him today,” Perkins said before the game. “Doc said somebody's got to step up and stop him.”
Maybe someone will do it in the playoffs. The Celtics never found an answer for Crawford while losing all four regular-season games to the Hawks for the first time since 1995-96.
Crawford scored 28 points to help lift the Hawks to a heated 100-91 victory at Philips Arena. He had 18 points as the Hawks took a 53-41 halftime lead, and Johnson scored 16 in the final period to turn back Boston.
Crawford said he heard about Perkins’ comments just before the Hawks took the floor.
“I was kind of fired up, but I wasn’t too worried about it,” he said. “They can knock me down, and I’ll get back up. I know my teammates got my back.”
Crawford entered the game in the first quarter and immediately went to work. He had 11 points and four assists in his first 13 minutes played.
When the Celtics focused on denying Crawford in the second half, Johnson took over.
The game had several heated moments, with lots of physical play, three player technical fouls and one on Hawks coach Mike Woodson.
“Playoff game,” Woodson said. “They [officials] let it go both ways. Bodies were flying around everywhere.”
The Celtics were in a bad mood after blowing a 16-point lead in a loss at Orlando the previous night, and they also wanted to avoid being swept by the Hawks in any number of games for the first time since 1998-99.
“They let it be known that it was going to be a physical game,” said Hawks forward Mo Evans. “They thought they were going to come in and bully us. We had that same mentality. We were going to be physical and protect our home court.”
The first altercation came in the second quarter, when Hawks forward Josh Smith wrapped up Perkins to prevent an easy basket. Perkins elbowed Smith to draw a technical foul. Smith was called for a flagrant, and Woodson got hit with a technical for arguing that call.
From that point on, both teams scrapped.
“You’ve got to expect that [from Boston],” Woodson said. “They didn’t win a championship by not being a physical team. If you back down, it’s going to be a lopsided game.”
After Crawford helped the Hawks control the first half, the Celtics used a 32-point third quarter to get within 74-73 after three quarters. The Celtics slowed the pace and made 19 of 20 free-throw attempts in the quarter.
But Johnson scored nine points during an 11-4 run to open the fourth quarter, and Boston could get no closer than five in the final two minutes.
The Hawks play at Southeast Division rival Orlando on Saturday night. The Hawks lead the division by one-half game but have lost both their games against the Magic this season.
“We haven’t figured them out yet,” Woodson said.