In the Eastern Conference hierarchy, the Magic have what the Celtics  want and the Cavaliers  have their attention. But it’s the Hawks that seem to bring out the best and the worst in the Celtics.
You could call it chippy. You could call it physical. Call it whatever you want but there’s a real edge when these two teams play. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either. The Celtics often play their best when they feel like they’ve been backed into a corner. But at times against the Hawks all that physical aggression resulted in some unseemly hoops.
The sequence went like this in a 93-85 Celtics loss Friday night: Bad first quarter, great second quarter, horrific third quarter, not good enough fourth quarter. The reason for the loss was fairly atypical. It wasn’t turnovers or offensive rebounds that did them in. It was an unsightly 41 percent shooting percentage.
This is developing into a good rivalry. Forget the playoff series from two seasons ago; that was another lifetime ago. The Hawks think they are on the level with the Celtics, and while they don’t have the playoff chops to prove it, they certainly have their number in the regular season.
Player of the Game: Josh Smith (Atlanta). The guy ESPN’s Jay Bilas once said was most likely to be a bust from the 2004 draft class (good call Jay) has quietly turned into one of the best forwards in the league. He finally has shelved the misguided 3-point game that stunted his growth and become a nightmare matchup on the post. Smith had two huge momentum-changing plays. One came on an alley-oop dunk. Another came on a clean block on what would have been a dunk by Kendrick Perkins .
Turning Point: The moment the second half started. The Celtics had played a solid road first half. They shot the ball well, took care of the ball and didn’t let the crowd into the game. And then, everything changed. The Hawks started making shots, which happens, but the Celtics stopped running their offense and like a batter taking a strikeout into the field, they let it affect their defense
* Perkins and Al Horford are part of a large group of Eastern Conference centers who wouldn’t look out of place on the All-Star team behind Dwight Howard . Both are complimentary players in the grand schemes of their teams, but both have also seen their roles, and their production, expand this season. Give the slight edge to Horford last night, but only slight.
* The Celtics shot almost 40 percent from 3-point range but don’t be fooled. They were 7-for-12 in the first half and 2-f0r-12 in the second. Rasheed Wallace  was the worst offender going 1-for-8.
* The Celtics somehow only committed 14 fouls in the game. Considering the nature of the game, that was the definition of the refs “letting them play.”
* Lester Hudson  wasn’t unemployed for long. The Grizzlies  claimed him on waivers and that may be a good spot for him to get some minutes and somebody’s long-term attention. Hudson doesn’t have much time to make an impression as he’s already 25 years old.