By The Sports Xchange

ATLANTA — Forward Paul Millsap had 26 points and 12 rebounds to help the Atlanta Hawks enhance their playoff hopes with a 123-116 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday at Philips Arena.

It was the 19th double-double of the season for Millsap, who played his second game after missing eight with left knee synovitis. Millsap was 8 of 15 from the field, 9 of 12 from the line and added four assists in 29 minutes.

The win moved Atlanta (40-38) a half-game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. A loss would have dropped the Hawks only one game above the playoff line.

Boston (50-29) lost for the second straight night, severely damaging any chance it had to win the conference. Atlanta won the season series against the Celtics 2-1. The second-place Celtics trail the Cleveland Cavaliers by 1 1/2 games for the top spot in the East.

Atlanta also got 23 points from Tim Hardaway Jr., a career-high 20 points from Taurean Prince — 18 in the first half — and 18 from Dennis Schroder, who made three 3-pointers.

Boston was led by Isaiah Thomas with 35 points and Jae Crowder with 24. Marcus Smart made five 3-pointers and scored 18.

Atlanta began the game with more energy than Boston, which was coming off an emotional loss to Cleveland on Wednesday night. Prince scored Atlanta’s first seven points and the Hawks bolted to a 14-point lead, going ahead 32-18 on a basket by Prince with 49 seconds left in the first quarter. Boston answered with a pair of treys by Smart and cut the margin to 32-24 after the opening period.

The Celtics got to within one point in the second period, the last time on a cutter by Bradley that made it 44-43 with 6:17 left.

Atlanta quickly answered. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Prince and Kent Bazemore soon restored the Hawks’ 10-point lead and they stretched it out to 71-55 at halftime. It was the second-most points Atlanta scored in a half this season, exceeded only by the 72 it posted against Denver on Feb. 8.

The Hawks stretched the lead to 20 points in the third quarter when Howard drove past Horford on consecutive trips down the floor to make it 83-63. But the Celtics kept chipping away, went on a 12-3 run and got to within 99-89 when Smart connected on his fifth 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter.

Boston was within 121-116 after Avery Bradley made three free throws with 26.3 remaining. Millsap iced the game with a pair of free throws with 20.9 seconds left to restore a seven-point lead.

NOTES: Boston coach Brad Stevens said he had no plans to rest the regulars before the playoffs begin. Atlanta did not start F Paul Millsap or G Kent Bazemore, both starters before injuries sidelined them. Millsap and Bazemore are available, but will play measured minutes until back to full strength. Atlanta was still without G Thabo Sefolosha, who missed his sixth straight game with a right groin strain. Sefolosha and F Kris Humphries were inactive for the Hawks. Boston’s inactives were C Tyler Zeller and G Demetrius Jackson. … Atlanta plays again Friday at Cleveland and returns home to host the Cavaliers on Sunday. Boston is at Charlotte on Saturday and finishes the season with home games against Brooklyn and Milwaukee.

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