ATLANTA— When the Boston Celtics played the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, it might have been a precursor to an NBA playoff series, but it certainly didn’t qualify as a “preview.”
Joe Johnson scored 30 points as Atlanta edged the short-handed Celtics 97-92 to take a step toward securing a home-court edge against Boston in the first round of the playoffs.
But the Celtics hardly looked like themselves.
Starters Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and key reserves Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus did not play.
Johnson scored 23 points, Boston guard Avery Bradley scored 17 of his career-high 28 and both teams combined to make 23 of 38 shots over the first two quarters.
Rondo, Allen and Pietrus stayed in Boston with injuries, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers gave Garnett and Pierce rest after playing 11 games in 15 days.
Still, Boston had more energy even with several rarely used players getting big minutes, and the Celtics pulled within one point five times in the fourth quarter before Johnson’s three-point play with 1:56 left gave Atlanta a 90-86 lead.
The Hawks held on, but weren’t so happy afterward.
“For us, it definitely sits a little uneasy,” Johnson said. “I don’t feel like we brought our ‘A’ game.”
The Hawks (38-25) have the fourth-best record in the East, which as long as they finish with a better record than Boston (37-27) would give them home court in a 4-5 match-up against the Celtics even though the Celtics are going to be considered a top four seed by virtue of having clinched the Atlantic Division title.
If the teams finish with the same record, Boston would be considered the fourth seed (behind the Pacers) and gain home court against Atlanta by virtue of being a division champion. Plus, the Celtics beat the Hawks in two of three regular-season meetings.