ATLANTA — The Boston Celtics looked to Kevin Garnett in the fourth quarter.
Garnett scored 10 of his 18 points in the final quarter, and Atlanta’s Joe Johnson missed a late free throw that would have tied it, helping the Celtics beat the Hawks 88-85 on Wednesday night for their 16th straight victory.
After Johnson missed the second of two free throws with 2.7 seconds, Ray Allen made a pair of free throws with 0.7 seconds left for the defending NBA champion Celtics, who have a franchise-best 24-2 record. It was only the second loss in 10 home games for the Hawks.
“I told KG to take us home down the stretch,” Celtics guard Rajon Rondo said. “I said make something happen. He said no problem.”
Garnett, quiet for much of the game, was 5-for-5 from the field in the fourth quarter after opening 2-for-10.
“It means we’re playing well. We want to play championship basketball. That’s what we’re building up to. Our goal is to win a championship,” said Garnett.
“You play your role around here. You do your job. You do what you’re supposed to,” he said.
“We got a lot of great shots within the last few minutes of the game. Kevin hit two unbelievable shots,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers.
In the only other game this season between the two, the Celtics beat Atlanta 103-102 on Nov. 12 in Boston on Paul Pierce’s last-second basket.
Pierce added 18 points, and Allen had 16 for the Celtics.
The Celtics are 10-1 on the road and 14-1 at home.
“Sometimes it seems as though it’s a burden. That monkey grows. It’s a good monkey though,” Allen said. “I’ve never been on a streak like this. It’s great to be a part of our winning here. I think our winning is based on our preparation.”
Johnson led Atlanta with 20 points, 10 in the final period. He was 7-of-7 from the line before the miss. Marvin Williams added 16 points, and Josh Smith and Mike Bibby had 14 each for the Hawks.
“I had a chance to get us into overtime and missed the second free throw. I made the first one and some of the pressure was off,” Johnson said.
“We drew the play up, and Joe got to the line, and the player that has carried this team the last four years went to the line,” said Atlanta coach Mike Woodson. “You could not ask for anything different.”
The Celtics took the lead for good at 85-84 on Garnett’s basket with 30.8 seconds left. Rondo, who had 15 points, then made one of two free throws to make it 86-84 lead with 9.1 seconds left.
Atlanta had won 12 of 13 at Philips Arena dating to last season’s playoffs when Atlanta made the postseason for the first time since 1998-98 with a 37-45 record and beat Boston in all three games at home but lost all four in Boston.
Atlanta snapped Cleveland’s 11-game winning streak with a 97-92 victory Saturday night and beat Charlotte 83-79 on Monday night in the second of eight straight home games.
Notes: The best start in NBA history with two losses is 26-2, set by the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers and matched by the ‘69-70 Knicks. ... The longest winning streak in Celtics history is 18, set during the 1981-82 season. ... The Celtics only road loss was 95-79 at Indiana on Nov. 1. Their only loss at home was against Denver on Nov. 14. ... The crowd of 18,729 was Atlanta’s fourth sellout.