ATLANTA — The Boston Celtics looked like the fresh team, not the one playing back-to-back games on the road.
The Atlanta Hawks? No one’s quite sure what’s going on with this listless bunch.
Nate Robinson had 16 points and 10 assists filling in for Rajon Rondo and the Celtics blew out Atlanta right from the start, racing to a 26-point lead in the first quarter on the way to a 99-76 rout Monday night.
This one was over before many fans had even settled into their seats. Paul Pierce hit a jumper, Kevin Garnett made another and the Celtics were off and running.
Pierce said everyone in green was still smarting from a one-point loss at Toronto the day before, and they hadn’t forgotten what happened last season, when Atlanta swept all four meetings.
Talk about making a statement.
“The whole bus drive from Toronto to the airport to customs — even this morning’s shootaround — you just saw the focus,” Pierce said. “Guys were (ticked) off. That’s the way we should be every night. We should never have to use losses to motivate us.”
Atlanta missed five of its first six shots, and Boston had a double-digit lead before the game was 4 minutes old. Shaquille O’Neal’s dunk made it 13-3, prompting the first of three timeouts coach Larry Drew called in the opening quarter in a desperate attempts to slow the Celtics.
Nothing worked. Boston made 18 of 25 shots, the Hawks just 4 of 17 and it was 39-13 at the end of the first.
“This was very embarrassing,” said first-year coach Larry Drew, who spoke with his team behind closed doors for more than 20 minutes afterward. “Very, very embarrassing. Very embarrassing. If I had one word to sum it up: embarrassing.”
The Hawks have lost six of eight since a 6-0 start, and a disturbing trend is emerging for a team that finished third in the Eastern Conference last season and decided to stand pat, other than fire coach Mike Woodson and promote his top assistant. Atlanta has yet to beat a team with a winning record, and this one was never close.
“We’re not coming out ready to play,” Drew said. “I’m not seeing any urgency. I’m not seeing any passion. We’re not playing like we want it. We’re not playing hard enough. It’s very, very disturbing.”
Most troubling to the new coach, this was the third time Atlanta has lost at home to a team playing on back-to-back nights. Normally, the opposing team comes out flat in those situation. But Milwaukee, Dallas and now the Celtics have run the Hawks ragged right from the start.
“I don’t know what we’re doing the night before the game,” Drew said. “But something is going on that is not allowing us to play with energy or passion. I’m going to find out what it is.”
Josh Smith scoffed at the notion that the Hawks are spending a little too much time burning both ends of the candle.
“Everyone is getting their rest,” he said. “I don’t think that’s an issue. We’ve just got to get back to sharing the basketball and playing together.”
That’s clearly not an issue for the Celtics, who snapped a modest two-game losing streak even without Rondo. He didn’t dress because of a strained left hamstring, but Robinson did a dead-on impression making his second straight start at the point, sparking the Celtics with eight points and five assists in the opening period.
Garnett scored 17 points, while Pierce and O’Neal chipped in with 13 apiece.
“I wish we could bottle this and put it on the shelf or something,” Garnett said. “It was imperative to come out with a lot of energy. We played defense for 48 minutes.”
Pierce hit a put-back with 5:04 left in the third quarter, putting the Celtics ahead 78-47. They could have gone scoreless the rest of the way and still won.
Boston led 64-42 at halftime and 85-56 after the third, leaving the final period to the backups on both teams. The Boston starters got to enjoy themselves, while there were nothing but sullen looks on the opposite bench as the Hawks watched the clock wind down.
Clearly, no one paid attention to a message written on the board alongside the Philips Arena practice court: “Hustle Will Dominate.”
Mike Bibby led the Hawks with 11 points. The other four starters — Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams — combined for a mere 16.
Johnson, averaging 18.5 a game, was held to six points on 2-of-10 shooting.
“They got off to a good start, and we never recovered,” he said. “We never hit back.”
Notes: Former Hawks owner Ted Turner attended the game, sitting at courtside. … All 12 Boston players who dressed out got on the scoresheet. … In fact, the only player who failed to score was Atlanta backup center Zaza Pachulia, who missed all four of his attempts. … Robinson came up limping after making back-to-back 3s in the third quarter. But Rivers said it was merely cramps from playing more than usual.