The Atlanta Hawks have a 4-20 road record, a statistic I present for obvious reasons. [I’m so sorry.] But seriously: The Celtics are feeling sprightly again after a hard-fought win over Denver and a merciless evisceration of the Knicks, so even with Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin out, making Terry Rozier the only pure point guard on the roster, one wouldn’t be that worried about the Hawks.
THE GAME FLOW
To start the game, the Celtics ran the 1-5 pick and roll that worked like gangbusters so often last year, and it succeeded just as much with Rozier having screens set for him by Aron Baynes. Rozier looked just as comfortable in the starting lineup as he did on Wednesday when he shitted on the Knicks’ whole life.
This unfortunately led to Boston taking their foot off the gas, and out of nowhere the squads were knotted at 14. And then the Hawks scored 7 in about a minute and led 21-14. Isn’t this ATL squad trying to tank, or something? I would be more frustrated but about two-thirds of the active Celtics roster was rookies; these things happen.
As my question indicates, I’m more surprised by the Hawks playing quite hard. Like, beyond the threshold of “let the young talent get tick.” Dennis Schröder is a legit NBA poing guard. Young dudes Taurean Prince, John Collins and Malcolm Delaney appear poised for big things, but ATL has the worst record in the league and needs a No. 1 pick, or at least Nos. 2-4. Vets like Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli and Dewayne Dedmon have no need to play hard. Perhaps they couldn’t help themselves. In Belinelli’s case he was probably thinking about La Perla models and doing so inspired him to shoot reasonably well.
While the Celtics suitably emerged from the coma in which they operated for the second half of the first quarter and the first half of Q2, held aloft by an exceptional Rozier and Jayson Tatum, it wasn’t quite enough to batten away a strong Schröder (17 points in the first half on his way to 25) and Belinelli epitomizing the phrase “shooters shoot.” In the wanin, Rozier, Jaylen Brown and confounding rookie Abdel Nader put some good work in, facilitated by Horford’s point-forward possessions. But it wasn’t enough to stop ATL from the 55-53 lead they held at halftime.
A new half began, and I could tell Brad Stevens was sick of this shit by his facial expressions on the sideline. Who could blame him? The Celtics sensed this and while saying it was a whole different team out there would be excessive hyperbole, Atlanta’s defense began to shrink from the fairly strict zone schemes head coach Mike Budenholzer had them running. Rozier’s strong and assured play continued and approached heat-check margins late in the third quarter, nudging away ATL’s lead at first, then stomping it into blood-caked hamburger. T-Ro scored every way he could, from the line, midrange, at the rim and from beyond the arc, making it to a career-high 28 points with 3 frames over. Tatum also kept up his good work from the first half on both ends of the floor, while Horford and Baynes repudiated just-OK starting quarters with excellent work all around. (This is especially good to see from Baynes, who’s been shaky the past few weeks.)
The Hawks didn’t go that cold, all things considered. The Celtics just stayed that much hotter. By the third frame’s end, Boston had a 19-point lead (94-75), and it didn’t take much of the 4th for that lead to be all but guaranteed with 8 minutes to go in the game. Every single starter had reached double figures by that point: Rozier with 28, Tatum 20, Jaylen 17, Uncle Al 17, Baynes 11. Shit, based on the different Hawks teams encountered in this game’s halves, maybe they just turned on the tank juice in Q3. Schröder kept up his quality play and Prince was just as good, particularly from behind the arc—he matched Rozier’s final point total with 31. But the combination of Atlanta going cold and/or tanking and Boston’s absurdly dominant Boston second half sealed the less-close-than-it-looked 119-110 win.
HOT ISH: T-Ro meeting the challenge of consecutive starts and performing excellently on both ends; a resurgent Tatum shaking off his rookie jitters; starting lineup synergy, the entire second half.
NOT ISH: The entire first half; turnovers, for, like, the 90 gazillionth time; not getting to the line often; only barely out-rebounding the Hawks.
Jaylen’s incredible circus shot:
Rozier daggering the third quarter with a viciously casual trey off a whip-fast Tatum assist: