BOSTON — Dwight Howard wasn’t around for the final 16 minutes of the Hawks’ Monday game against the Boston Celtics.
But the big man’s Atlanta teammates did quite well without him.
“Despite me getting kicked out, I think guys really stepped up and played great,” Howard said after Atlanta blew the game open in the second half and ended a three-game losing streak with a 114-98 blowout of the Boston Celtics.
“It was a good team win,” Howard said. “I apologized to the guys and told them I need to do a better job of keeping my composure and some other things and they understood.”
Howard, who scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 27 minutes, was tossed for two third-quarter technical fouls (his 10th and 11th T’s of the season) in the second straight scrappy game between the teams.
The first technical was for shoving Al Horford. The second was for hanging on the rim after a dunk. Atlanta led 74-65 when he left, but the Hawks (33-26) were in the midst of a 24-10 run that broke it open as the Celtics lost for the third time in the last four games.
“I thought they gathered themselves and decided we needed to keep this thing going,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of his players. “I think Dwight got us to that point. He was a huge part of getting the 10-point lead. I think we just wanted to bring it home for him and for all of us.”
The Hawks, who knocked the Celtics out of last year’s playoffs in the first round, made life miserable for Isaiah Thomas, who had his worst game of the season. He saw his club-record streak of 43 consecutive 20-point games end in a 19-point effort. Thomas shot 4 of 21 from the floor, 1 of 6 from 3-point range, and turned the ball over seven times.
“It’s frustrating when you don’t get any calls and you feel like you’re getting fouled,” said Thomas, who did have seven assists and five rebounds. “We gotta do a better job of holding our head and trying to stay positive, though. It’s just a learning lesson for us.”
As far as the end of the streak, Boston’s little big man said, “No, I’ll break it again. I’m not worried about it. I’ll break it.”
“They were really aggressive on him,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They were really tough on him. They bodied him up; they were physical, they had a bunch of different guys on him, they were very active on the screens.”
Budenholzer liked the physical play of his team: “I thought that was the thing that maybe stood out. We had an edge, we had a competitive edge, just a level that you need to compete in this league.”
Thomas may be showing signs of fatigue. He is 28 of 89 (31.4 percent) from the floor and 13 of 37 (35.1 percent) from 3-point range in the past four games.
“I’m not as worried about Isaiah; I’m worried about how our team’s playing,” Stevens said.
He should be worried about Horford as well, as the big free agent signee has just 25 total points in the past four games (six Monday). He is 11 of 36 from the floor, 1 of 12 from behind the arc, in the four games.
Early in the third quarter, Thomas went against Howard on a switch, and the big man grabbed the guard by the shoulders and bent him back. A review upheld the personal-foul call (Howard seemed to apologize to Thomas), but soon after Horford hit Howard hard as Howard went for a shot. Howard pushed Horford for the technical.
In Atlanta last month, Dennis Schroder accused Thomas of trash-talking against his mother, a charge Thomas denied. There was no evidence of any of that Monday.
Schroder had 21 points, five assists and four rebounds. Paul Millsap added 17 points and 10 rebounds (nine in the first quarter), and Kent Bazemore contributed 15 points.
Marcus Smart had 16 points and Jaylen Brown 15 off the bench as the Celtics went just 10 of 34 from 3-point range. The Boston starters were a combined 13 of 46 from the floor, 4 of 19 from long distance.
NOTES: A late Terry Rozier 3-pointer gave the Celtics their 18th straight game with at least 10 threes, the second-longest streak in NBA history. … The Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday. … The Hawks open a six-game homestand over 10 days against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday. … Boston G Avery Bradley returned and had six points in 15 minutes, all in the first half. He missed 22 of the prior 23 games due to a sore right Achilles tendon. … Celtics G Gerald Green was out with a bruised heel. … The Hawks are 24-24 after a 9-2 start. … Celtics G Isaiah Thomas received his January Eastern Conference player of the month award prior to tipoff. … New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman was seated courtside.