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Hawks rally to top Boston
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ATLANTA — Jamal Crawford is trying not to jinx himself. When he talks about that long-awaited first trip to the playoffs, he still uses the word "if."

If Crawford keeps playing like he did Friday night, there shouldn’t be any worries.

Atlanta’s valuable sixth man scored 18 points, including two crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and the Hawks beat the Boston Celtics for the second time this season, 93-85 Friday night.

"I’m loving it," Crawford said. "If we get there this year, I’m really going to enjoy it."


The Hawks are just a half-game behind Orlando in the Southeast Division, more focused on getting the highest seed possible than just getting in. Then again, Crawford failed to make the playoffs in his first nine NBA seasons, so he’s not taking anything for granted.

"You can never be too sure," he said with a nervous smile.

Trailing 45-39 at the half, the Hawks dominated the third quarter and pushed their lead as high as 15. The Celtics fought back, putting within two in the final period, but Crawford helped stymie the comeback.

He converted a four-point play after being knocked into the seats on a 3-pointer from the corner. But his biggest shot was an even longer jumper from behind the arc that sealed it with 52.5 seconds left.

"He does that all the time," teammate Josh Smith said. "It’s unbelievable. When he gets it going, he’s hard to stop."

All five Atlanta starters scored in double figures, including Mike Bibby with 17. The Hawks won their second straight after a season-worst four-game losing streak, and made it two in a row over the Celtics, following a 97-86 win at Boston on Nov. 13.

"It’s very important," Joe Johnson said. "They’re one of the teams we have to go through."

Paul Pierce scored 21 to lead the Celtics, who couldn’t quite overcome a dismal third quarter. Atlanta shot 61 percent (11 of 18) in the period, held the Celtics to 5-of-22 shooting (23 percent) and pushed its lead as high as 68-53 on the high-flying Smith’s lay-in of an alley-oop pass from Crawford.

But Boston kept it from being a blowout, scoring the final seven points to close to 68-60 going to the fourth. Pierce sparked the run with a 3-pointer.

"Right now you have to give it to them," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They are the better team."

Crawford’s four-point play was the 21st of his career, which trails only Reggie Miller’s 24 on the NBA career list. He scrambled after a loose ball in the corner and threw up what looked like a desperation shot with plenty of time on the shot clock. Despite getting slammed by Kendrick Perkins, which sent Crawford sprawling into the first row, the ball hit nothing but net.

The slender guard slapped hands with at least a half-dozen fans, then sank the free throw that made it 78-67 with about 7 minutes to go.

"That felt like a rhythm shot to me, going to my left," Crawford said. "Except for getting laid out. "I couldn’t really see it, but I heard the crowd and I was like, ‘Oh, it went in."’

The Celtics weren’t done, ripping off a 9-0 run to pull to 78-76 on Pierce’s lay-in off a turnover with 5:27 remaining.

Atlanta called timeout and got itself together. Bibby hit an open 3 from the top of the key, Smith hit another long jumper from just inside the arc, and Al Horford sank a hook shot over Perkins. Then, with the clock running down, Atlanta took care of the dirty work to finish off the Celtics.

Smith and Horford both hustled for offensive rebounds, Horford got back to steal a breakaway pass, and Crawford delivered the decisive blow — his 3 with just under a minute to go that pushed Atlanta to a 91-82 lead. He skipped back toward the bench and leaped up against Smith to celebrate.

"It seemed like every time you looked up, they had a guy open from 3," Pierce said.

Boston played its fourth straight game without star forward Kevin Garnett, who sat out because of a hyper-extended right knee. The Celtics also were missing backup guard Tony Allen, who stayed at the hotel battling flulike symptoms.

Perkins and Ray Allen added 15 points apiece for the Celtics.NOTES: G Eddie House returned to the Celtics after missing the last game against Miami with the same sort of symptoms that Tony Allen has now. House scored 7 points in just under 16 minutes. ... The game drew 15,149, about 3,000 short of capacity on a night when roads in downtown Atlanta were still icy from a dusting of snow that prompted metro Atlanta school systems to shut down for the day.

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