Hawks, Celtics meet in Eastern clash

The Boston Celtics are nearing a sixth straight postseason appearance and can make up some ground in the East standings Friday versus the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden.

The Celtics are 2 1/2 games behind both the Chicago Bulls and Hawks, and sit two games clear of the Milwaukee Bucks, who are positioned eighth.

Boston avoided a season high-tying sixth straight loss with Wednesday's thrilling 93-92 come-from-behind win at Cleveland. The Celtics erased a 14- point hole by closing out the game on a 21-6 run, which was capped by Jeff Green's driving layup at the buzzer.

Green finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Brandon Bass scored a season-high 22 points for the Celtics, who got a double-double from star forward Paul Pierce. Pierce posted 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

"It was a huge win," said Pierce. "We didn't play well from the second quarter on, but we found a way. It seemed like we were mentally fatigued and physically fatigued, but we put it all together at the end."

Boston, which is 24-11 in Beantown, has dropped two in a row at home and will visit New York and Minnesota in the next few days.

Celtics All-Star center Kevin Garnett has missed three straight and five of seven games with a balky left ankle, and is listed as out on the team's official game notes. He is averaging 14.9 ppg and his absence has opened the door for more playing time for Green.

Green has played at least 39 minutes in each of the past three games.

Meanwhile, Atlanta will close out a four-game road trip Friday and captured a playoff berth for a sixth season in a row with a 107-88 victory Wednesday at Toronto.

Al Horford scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, Jeff Teague delivered 24 points and 13 assists and Josh Smith netted 19 points for the Hawks, who are 2-1 on the trip and have alternated wins and losses over the past seven games.

"I'm really proud of this bunch and what we've accomplished tonight," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. "There were a lot of people who counted us out at the start of the season, didn't think we'd be in this position with all the changes we made. Here we are, we solidified a spot in the postseason."

The Hawks outscored the Raptors, 63-34, in the second half and forced 20 turnovers for 24 points. Atlanta has forced 41 turnovers in the last two games and is 10th in the NBA with 15.3 per game. Smith is averaging 21.5 ppg in the last four for the Hawks, who are 18-19 on the road and even with Chicago for the fifth spot in the East standings.

Atlanta will begin a four-game homestand Saturday versus Orlando and has lost two of three matchups with Boston this season. The Celtics have won six of nine games in this series and 14 of the past 19 as the host.