Celtics outplay Atlanta 99-89

ATLANTA - Sam Cassell and Boston's backups outplayed Atlanta's starters in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics prevented the Hawks from clinching their first playoff berth since 1999 with a 99-89 victory Saturday night.

Atlanta would have ended the NBA's longest playoff drought with a victory, because Indiana lost to Charlotte earlier Saturday. The Hawks remained two games ahead of the Pacers with two to play, lowering their magic number to one for the right to face the Celtics in a first-round series.

The Hawks led 84-78 after two 3-pointers by Mike Bibby, but Cassell scored 20 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter, as the Celtics outscored the Hawks 21-5 down the stretch.

Kevin Garnett sat out the fourth quarter but led Boston with 24 points. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen each had 14.

Joe Johnson scored 21 and Josh Smith and Al Horford each had 17 for Atlanta. Bibby added 16.

Rivers said before the game the Hawks 'wouldn't be an easy series. They're athletic as heck.'

The Hawks' top athletes, including Smith and Horford, played up to Rivers' billing as they rallied from a 55-44 halftime deficit.

Horford and Smith combined for 23 points as the Hawks outscored the Celtics 30-19 in the third period.

The Celtics gave the Hawks their best - at least for three periods. Garnett, Allen and Pierce each played fewer than 25 minutes in Boston's 102-86 win over Milwaukee on Friday night, but the three passed that mark in the third quarter against Atlanta before the backups took over.