One down, four to go.
Several Hawks players said this week the team needed to win all five remaining regular-season games to secure a playoff spot. That may or may not be true but the Hawks are off to a good start.
The Hawks led by as many as 20 points en route to a 123-116 victory over the Celtics in a nationally televised game Thursday at Philips Arena. The Hawks had to hold in the final minutes of the fourth quarter after holding the substantial lead.
But it was an important win.
The Hawks (40-38) won for the third time in the past 12 games. They moved back into fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Paul Millsap led the Hawks with a double-double of 26 points and 12 rebounds. The forward came off the bench in his second game back after missing eight games with left knee synovitis.
Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 points and Taurean Prince had a career-high 20 points. Dennis Schroder (18 points), Kent Bazemore (12) and Dwight Howard (10) also scored in double figures.
The Hawks won the season series with the Celtics, 2-1, the third straight year they have bested the Celtics on the year.
The Celtics (50-29) lost for the second straight game. Isaiah Thomas scored a game-high 35 points and Jae Crowder added 24 points, including four 3-pointers.
The Hawks led by as many as 20 points early in the third quarter but took a 99-89 lead into the final period.
The Hawks took a 71-55 lead at halftime after a strong close of the second quarter. The Hawks led by as many as 14 points in the first quarter before the Celtics used a 3-point barrage to erase the deficit. With the score tied at 44-44, the Hawks closed the first half on a 27-11 run.
Prince surpassed his career high of 17 points in the first half after a put-back dunk gave the rookie 18 points before intermission. He started the strong half by scoring the Hawks’ first seven points of the game. He played a career-high 41 minutes.