ATLANTA — The Celtics entered Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks fully determined to avoid the pitfalls, lapses, and inconsistent play that has followed many of their winning streaks.
Boston was on a two-game winning streak with a combined margin of 82 points, including a 53-point win Wednesday over the Sacramento Kings, but again couldn’t maintain it, falling, 108-92, to the hot Hawks.
Jayson Tatum offered a strong message to his teammates after Friday’s shootaround at State Farm Arena about maintaining focus entering a critical stretch of games, beginning with the Hawks, who have won five consecutive games.
“I think our guys understand we need to continue to build and continue to get better and [Tatum] was very vocal about that,” Al Horford said. “[He said] we needed to stay locked in and come out ready to play because it’s going to be a big challenge. Atlanta has been playing really well and I think we all know that. We’re looking at this as an opportunity to come out and compete and continue to build on how we’ve been playing.
“It was an important message for our group and everybody kind of falls in line.”
Celtics coach Ime Udoka pointedly said his team should not get comfortable after two consecutive blowout wins.
“Simply look at our record,” Udoka said “We’re one game over .500. A two-game winning streak really isn’t a winning streak.”
Despite their turbulent season, the Celtics are just 6½ games behind the first-place Miami Heat in the East with the Heat coming to Boston on Monday and another key game against Charlotte on Wednesday.
Udoka said he welcomes Tatum, who has led by example during his early career, becoming a more vocal leader.
“I wouldn’t say often, he speaks when he has something on his mind and it’s welcome,” Udoka said. “I echoed his statement after he said it. We’ve been here at times this year and had some slip ups, so it was great for him to come out and say that and what we want him to do more of. We appreciate it and it’s a sign of growth for him.
Initially, the NBA released the All-Star voting results and listed Celtics center Enes Kanter as receiving zero fan votes. This was not an NBA conspiracy against the opinioned Kanter, who changed his name to Enes Freedom in November.
There have been perceptions the NBA has been uncomfortable with Freedom’s political statements, but the league did not note Kanter’s name change because it occurred prior to the Dec. 25 opening of All-Star voting.
The NBA erred in its voting tabulations because it did not include votes that Freedom actually received, a byproduct of the in-season name change. Freedom actually received 8,834 fan votes for the Feb. 20 All-Star Game in Cleveland and one player vote.
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum received the fourth-most fan votes for an Eastern Conference frontcourt player but was not named as a starter. Tatum and Jaylen Brown have an opportunity to be named as reserves next Thursday. NBA head coaches vote on reserves but are not allowed to vote on players from their own teams.
Because of the impending snowstorm in Boston, the Celtics will spend Saturday night in New Orleans and travel back to Boston on Sunday morning. The initial play was to return home directly after the 7 p.m. ET start. Sunday is a day off for the players because they are coming off back-to-back games but the top-seeded Heat come to TD Garden on Monday, not giving the players much time for rest after travel.
“You’d prefer not to have to travel on an off day,” Udoka said. “Safety first and it will be crazy [in Boston], high winds coming in as well as icy and snowing. It’s supposed to be clearer in late morning or early afternoon, so we’re taking the same approach.”
Horford, who spent his first nine seasons in Atlanta, said returning isn’t as nostalgic as it was a few years ago. He said he still has friends and family in the area. “As far as the game, it’s just another game,” he said. … De’Andre Hunter and Danilo Gallinari were both game-time decisions with injuries but each was available, giving the Hawks a fully healthy lineup.