BOSTON -- A hand-scrawled first-half statistical comparison remained on the whiteboard inside the Celtics' locker room following a 97-86 loss to the Hawks on Friday at the TD Garden.
The key stat -- rebounding -- was circled to emphasize Atlanta's
25-13 advantage in that category over the first two quarters of play.
Maybe the coaching staff should have highlighted it better.
The Celtics were unable to make the necessary adjustments as the Hawks finished with a 47-29 edge on the glass, utilizing a whopping 16 offensive rebounds to finish with a 22-4 advantage in second-chance points.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't need to glance at the final box score to summarize the effort. "I just think they kicked our butts," he said. "Honestly, I think they were better tonight."
The Celtics accomplished their two defensive goals in keeping the Hawks below 50 percent shooting (38 of 84, 45.2 percent) and under 100 points, but the visitors could have shot 30 percent from the field and it wouldn't have mattered with the number of second-chance efforts Boston gave up.
Kevin Garnett echoed his coach's sentiments: "They beat us up tonight."
Added Garnett: "Second-chance points -- what'd they get, 20 second-chance points? I don't even know what it was, but you can't win a game getting outrebounded 47-29. Rebounding is a group effort and it starts with the big, so the bigs have got to do a better job of doing just that."
Al Horford paced Atlanta's rebounding blitz with 13 boards, including four on the offensive glass. Joe Johnson added seven rebounds to go along with a game-high 24 points to pace five Hawks in double figures, including Jamal Crawford, who poured in 18 points off the bench.
"We played hard," said Josh Smith, who added 14 points and 7 rebounds. "Al was great down low, keeping a lot of balls alive. I think Joe Smith came off the bench and gave us great minutes. Jamal Crawford -- I can't say enough about him. Everybody came with an equally good effort, starters and bench players."
The Celtics couldn't say the same. The starters seemed sluggish at times, particularly in the second quarter. Point guard Rajon Rondo and Garnett sat for an extended period spanning into the second quarter before checking back in with around five minutes left in the half.
Instead of helping to extend a small lead, Rondo and Garnett were part of a group that watched the Hawks rally to pull ahead. Boston emerged with a tenuous 42-41 advantage at the intermission, but the Hawks were unrelenting on the glass in the second half.
"I thought from a defensive standpoint we finally stepped up and played a solid 48-minute game, where we banged with them," said Hawks coach Mike Woodson. "Because if you don't bang, or get loose balls, and rebound with them, you don't beat this team. And I thought we did everything we had to do to secure a win."
Rivers confirmed the physicality of the Hawks, but tried to deflect some of the criticism that will be levied at the Celtics' frontcourt after the loss, saying the blame went across the board.
"I thought they were more physical," Rivers said. "Second-chance points … our turnovers, when you turn the ball over to an athletic team, you're going to give up points. When you don't put bodies on athletic guys, you're going to give up points. And I thought we did both of those tonight. And unfortunately, I think everyone will say it was our bigs. But our bigs weren't helped all night because the guards were getting beat off the dribble all night. And so a lot of times those offensive rebounds were guards that should have put bodies on guys. So I think the easy target is the bigs, and it wasn't them the whole game."
Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.