The Hawks (38-25) are in line to be the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, and Celtics (37-27) are on track to be No. 5. This, however, looked nothing like a playoff game early.
Both teams shot over 50 percent and Atlanta took a 58-49 halftime lead while Boston guard Avery Bradley scored 17 of his career-high 28 points.
Boston left Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus at home with injuries, and perennial All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce made the trip to Atlanta but Celtics coach Doc Rivers rested both stars after playing 11 games in 15 days.
Even without five players who either start or play big minutes, the Celtics pulled within one point five times in the fourth quarter.
Johnson’s three-point play with 1:56 left gave Atlanta a 90-86 lead, and the Hawks held on for their first win in three games against Boston. Josh Smith had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Atlanta, and Keyon Dooling scored 17 points for the Celtics.
The Hawks lost a home game earlier this season when Miami Heat stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James did not play, and there was danger of a repeat Friday, especially when Dooling scored on a layup with 2:33 left to close the deficit to 87-86. Johnson’s three-point play came moments later.
If the teams finish with the same record, Boston would be considered the fourth seed by virtue of being a division champion. Plus, the Celtics beat the Hawks in two of three regular-season meetings.
Should Atlanta finish with a better record that would supersede Boston’s division title in determining home court in a head-to-head playoff matchup.
NOTES: The Celtics signed 6-foot-10 C-F Sean Williams, who averaged 15.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots for the Texas Legends of the D-League. Williams, who played at Boston College, also averaged 3.6 points and 1.6 rebounds for the Dallas Mavericks. He was drafted by the Nets 17th overall in 2007, and has career NBA averages of 4.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. To make room, Boston requested waivers on injured C-F Jermaine O’Neal. . . . The Celtics may be back to full roster strength for their next game, Tuesday against the Heat in Boston.