With Paul Millsap back on the floor, Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer likes his team's chances to get in the playoffs.
"At some point, we just needed to win a game, and I think that's where our focus is," Budenholzer said. "These are good teams in these next games that will prepare you for the playoffs."
Millsap scored 26 points in a reserve role, Tim Hardaway Jr. added 23 and Atlanta snapped a two-game skid with a 123-116 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
Isaiah Thomas scored 35 points, Jae Crowder had 24 and Marcus Smart 18 for the Celtics. They have dropped two in a row after winning five of seven.
Rookie Taurean Prince finished with a career-high 20 points, and Dennis Schroder added 18 for Atlanta. The Hawks had lost nine of 11.
Millsap, recovering from a knee injury, credited steady ball movement and strong pick-and-rolls with his team's strong night offensively.
"That's how we've got to play," he said. "This is our team, and if we continue to do that, we'll be able to score."
Schroder hit a straightaway 3 to make it 116-107 with 2:07 remaining before Thomas' corner 3 with 55.3 seconds to go cut the lead to five. The Celtics didn't get any closer the rest of the way.
Boston fell 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the East lead, but is still two games ahead of third-place Toronto. Fifth-place Atlanta, which led by 20 in the third, moved one-half game ahead of Milwaukee. The regular season ends and the playoffs start next week.
One night after losing by 23 at home to the defending champion Cavaliers, Boston allowed 71 points in the first half and trailed by 16 at halftime.
The Celtics were sluggish defensively and looked tired during much of the night on Atlanta's end, getting outrebounded 52-38 and getting called for too many fouls underneath.
Boston coach Brad Stevens liked what he saw, though, from his bench.
"Sometimes you feel like you found something in a loss, and I feel like we can build on this one," Stevens said. "Last night, no. This one, yeah."
ON THE MEND, ON THE FLOOR:
Millsap didn't start for the second straight game as Budenholzer works him back from a sore left knee. The four-time All-Star won't play Friday at Cleveland, missing his ninth game in the last 11, but he's expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday against the Cavs.
"The first few possessions out there, it took me a little bit to get in a groove," Millsap said. "I think I got an offensive foul and ran over a guy, but as soon as I settled down I was able to get going."
NOT WELCOME HOME:
Al Horford, in his second game back in Atlanta after spending his first nine seasons with the Hawks, was whistled five times by the middle of the third and went to bench with just two points, two rebounds and three assists. He finished with four points on 1-for-7 shooting.
Horford was a classy citizen and tireless worker on the court, but fans, still upset that he left as a free agent, again booed him every time he touched the ball.
"The most frustrating thing for me was the fouls," he said. "It just took my out of my rhythm. That was hard for me."
Dwight Howard's streak of double-doubles ended at 10 games, his longest since last season with Houston and the longest Hawks streak since Kevin Willis had 21 straight in 1991-92.
Celtics: At Charlotte on Saturday. Boston has won three straight overall four straight on the road in the series.
Hawks: Visit Cleveland on Friday and host the Cavaliers on Sunday. Cleveland has won 12 of 13 in the series, including the playoffs. In a 135-130 win last month, the Cavs hit 25 3-pointers, an NBA regular-season record.