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Mar 24, 2024 12:06 pm

Celtics look to earn top seed in East with win over Hawks

sam hauser

The Boston Celtics, winners of nine straight, could clinch the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference on Monday when they open a two-game series in Atlanta.

Boston (57-14) needs one victory — or a Milwaukee Bucks loss — to mathematically nail down first place for the playoffs. Another win would give the team its most victories since the 2008-09 team went 62-20.

“We’re just hungry for more,” Boston’s Sam Hauser said after Saturday’s 124-113 win over the Chicago Bulls. “It’s not in our character to just mail it in for the rest of the season.”

Boston continues to have the best record in the league, despite tip-toeing around injuries. Jaylen Brown (right ankle load management) did not play Saturday. Jayson Tatum (right ankle), Al Horford (left big toe sprain) and Kristaps Porzingis (right hamstring) have each been in and out of the lineup.

“Different people, different guys, are ready to step up when their number is called,” Horford said. “We all understand what we’re trying to do, how we’re trying to play. Guys are just staying ready and taking advantage of the opportunities.”

The Celtics won the first two games this season against Atlanta — 113-103 on Nov. 26 and 125-117 on Feb. 7, both played in Boston. The Celtics have a seven-game winning streak against the Hawks and have won the past two games played in Atlanta.

Atlanta (31-39) is currently No. 10 in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks are 5 1/2 games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets and only 2 1/2 games behind the No. 9 Bulls. But if Atlanta aspires to catch Chicago, it needs to overcome a difficult schedule. The Hawks play four home games over the next six days, with two against Boston and single games against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Bucks.

“We’re not going to take it for granted,” said Atlanta reserve Bruno Fernando, who scored a career-high 25 points and had six rebounds on Saturday in a 132-91 home win over the Charlotte Hornets.

“Every game is a special day so we’re going to try to take advantage of games that we can win, especially take advantage of our home floor. … We’ve seen it happen before with other people, so why not?”

Fernando’s effort was the latest in a series of nice games for the physical power forward. He has earned more minutes in the absence of Onyeka Okongwu, who missed 13 games with a toe injury and was held out of Saturday’s game for load management.

“It means a lot,” Fernando said. “Long time coming for me. This team is special to me. I’ve been through a lot here with this organization, so for me to be able to come in and have a game like that means a lot to me.”

The Hawks continue to be consumed by injuries. Starters Trae Young, Jalen Johnson and Saddiq Bey all missed Saturday’s game. The team has not said when it expects Young to return; he has missed 14 games.

“We miss Trae, but when you have a point guard like (Dejounte Murray), it makes the offense go,” said Atlanta reserve Garrison Mathews, who scored a season-high 20 points against Charlotte.

Murray has scored 29 and 28 points in his past two games. He was 7-of-9 shooting on 3-pointers against Charlotte and had 12 assists with seven rebounds.

–Field Level Media

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