KYLE HIGHTOWER, AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) — Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer knew that stopping the Boston Celtics hinged on making things hard for Isaiah Thomas.
They did, and it helped end their longest losing streak in two months.
Dennis Schroder had 21 points and the Hawks snapped a three-game skid with a chippy 114-98 win over the Celtics on Monday night.
Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard each added 17 points. The Hawks led by 13 entering the fourth quarter and increased the edge to 24 despite playing the final 16 minutes without Howard, who was ejected in the third quarter after receiving his second technical foul.
Howard was at the center of two heated exchanges and said he was proud of how his team responded after his exit.
“It was a good team win,” he said. “I apologized to the guys and told them I need to do a better job of keeping my composure and some other things and they understood.”
Budenholzer said seeing his team win a physical affair is a good sign.
“I thought that was the thing that maybe stood out. We had an edge, we had a competitive, just a level that you need to compete in this league,” he said. “I think the group understands what that is.”
Thomas had 19 points but was held to 4 for 21 from the field as the Celtics ended a seven-game home winning streak.
Boston was off all night offensively, despite the return of guard Avery Bradley to the starting lineup after missing 22 of the previous 23 games with a right Achilles tendon injury. Bradley was on a minutes’ restriction, logging 15 while scoring six points.
Tensions ran a little high early in the third after a pair of hard fouls involving Howard.
Howard was whistled for a foul after grabbing a driving Thomas near his neck. The play was reviewed but ruled to be a common foul. Then, after Howard was fouled by Al Horford, he responded by pushing the former Hawks’ All-Star. The play resulted in a technical on Howard and a chorus of boos from the TD Garden crowd.
Howard’s night ended late in the quarter, after he received his second technical for taunting after he did a chin-up on the rim following a dunk.
The NBA said in a statement later Monday that Howard should not have been tossed for hanging on the rim. The league said the technical should have been ruled “non-unsportsmanlike” and should not count toward an automatic ejection.
It marked the latest skirmish between the teams this season.
Thomas connected on a late jumper to beat the Hawks in their first meeting last month. Schroder later said that Thomas quipped about his mother during the game, and Thomas disputed the charge.
If there were hard feelings remaining between them, it didn’t show Monday. They even exchanged some subtle smiles while having a conversation during a free throw break in the first quarter.
The Celtics couldn’t find any offensive flow in the first half, connecting on just 38 percent of their attempts from the field (18 of 47) and 34 of 87 (39 percent) for the game.
“I just feel like we played hard enough,” Bradley said. “In the second half they played harder than us. They punked us.”
Hawks: Outscored Boston 60-34 in the paint and 20-11 in second-chance points. … The technical fouls were the 10th and 11th for Howard this season.
Celtics: With just 19 points, Thomas’ franchise-record streak of consecutive 20-point games ended at 43. It was just the second time this season he has not scored at least 20 points. … Boston’s opening night starting lineup of Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Horford, Bradley and Thomas dropped to 16-6 together.
“I thought that they made it hard on us. We made it harder on ourselves by throwing them the ball.” — Celtics coach Brad Stevens on his team’s 18 turnovers.
Hawks: Begin a six-game homestand Wednesday night against Dallas.
Celtics: Get their third look at the conference-leading Cavaliers on Wednesday night. Boston lost the two first two meetings this season at Cleveland.
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