This season’s Atlanta Hawks have as many losses (8) as the Boston Celtics have wins. They are, one would hope, finally rebuilding after a decade of sorta-competition that rarely ended well. But with both teams on the second night of a back-to-back, a surefire win for the Cs wasn’t guaranteed. And it almost didn’t happen–Atlanta fought hard. But Kyrie Irving had his first takeover game as a Celtic, with 35-3-7, and sealed the win in clutch moments.
THE GAME FLOW
Al Horford, former fulcrum of the Hawks, provided Boston’s first five points in two shots, after the squad got caught off guard early by the dramatic forces of…Luke Babbitt and Taurean Prince. The Cs soon got a run going that drove ATL coach Mike Budenholzer to a quick timeout. The Celtics weren’t shooting well but defended fiercely as the have all season, while the Hawks played with an intensity greater than the sum of their parts (which are meager).
Yet Budenholzer is a man accustomed to making lemonade out of highly suspicious lemons, and he drives his teams to eschew ego and find ways to create offense when opportunities don’t appear to exist. This cooperation drove ATL to an 11-2 run that put them in front toward the end of Q1. They didn’t stay there for long, but I imagine the Hawks even getting there didn’t please Brad Stevens one bit. Not long after that, ATL’s second run, capitalizing on Celtics turnovers and the Hawks’ own aggressiveness, particularly on the boards and blocks, likely pleased him a lot less. Young ballers like the aforementioned Prince (whom I shouldn’t have slandered up there, TBH; he’s solid), John Collins and Isaiah Taylor showed sustained flashes of what Budenholzer ostensibly hopes to build on in the near future, and veteran center Dewayne Dedmon made life hell on the Cs’ bigs.
Boston never got down by more than 5 or 6 points thanks to the efforts of Horford, Kyrie and Jaylen Brown, but couldn’t seem to quite get ahead for long enough in the entire 2nd quarter. Until the very end of the half, that is, when a series of events beginning with a Jayson Tatum block on Dedmon and ending in a Kyrie/Horford 1-4 pick and roll got the ball in Terry Rozier’s hands for a wide-open trey.
Atlanta PG Dennis Schroeder got across the court fast enough to bullshit-Eurostep his way into two free throws, but he could only tie the contest, knotting us at 54 going into halftime. Boston clearly had some adjustments to make: In particular, they weren’t defending well against the PNR, which hasn’t been a huge problem for them this season but the Hawks char-broiled them with it.
Things didn’t start well for our heroes in the second half, with a 7-0 Hawks run that only Kyrie managed to extinguish. Schroeder took over and looked much like the superstar the Hawks front office hoped to get when they extended him to the tune of 4 years/$70 million. Meanwhile, Prince and the corpse of Marco Belinelli knocked down treys, and it was starting to look real trap-gamey here in A-Town.
Then, at about the 5:00 mark of Q3, Kyrie and Al reminded us why they are stars, and why you need stars in this league, as they had in the Milwaukee game about a week ago: Whether through shot-taking or shot-creating as passers, the duo facilitated the run the Celtics had needed all game–a 17-7 shellacking. The Hawks had no real answer for Kyrie all game, hence his 23 points by Q3’s end, but until now Irving hadn’t received a lot of supplementary scoring. Tatum and Brown started to come through on that end and Al stayed steady, ATL finally starting to show the seams one expected them, as a rebuilding franchise, to have shown all game. The third frame ended with Boston substantively ahead for the first time in the game, 82-75.
Factory foremen Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis came in, along with Rozier, to start the 4th, getting some quick buckets and making plays to hit the line. For the Hawks, Collins, Babbitt and Belinelli kept them alive and within striking distance, though, so no one should’ve started celebrating. No one did. Kyrie and Brown kept driving; Horford, Theis and Marcus Smart kept things cool–if not as suppressed as this completely partial sportswriter would’ve liked–on the defensive end.
Energy started flagging for the Cs in the frame’s second half, and they let the Hawks back in the game, even retaking the lead, however briefly, off Kent Bazemore shots and Dedmon’s work down low. Neither team could quite put this one in the books, and things looked dire at the 2:45 mark when Smart briefly went down right after Malcolm Delaney and Dedmon made successive jumpers. SMARF recovered, and Kyrie said, “F this, we’re winning,” sticking a trey in the Atlanta crowd’s face. With a little help from Tatum–whose own trey ultimately decided the game–and the Hawks choking down the stretch–i.e., why you don’t pay Dennis Schroder $70 million–the Celtics narrowly escaped with their 9th straight win, 110-107.
THE HOT: Star power, as previously noted, came out on top here, but this was another win that saw contributions from around the roster. Smart hustled hard as always, Rozier had several key shots and defensive rebounds, Ojeleye’s shots kept ATL on their toes and Tatum brought as much offense as Horford and Kyrie, ending the game with 21 points.
THE NOT: Bad pick and roll defense, inability to deal with Atlanta’s high pace, 13 turnovers, lack of forced turnovers, numerous blown offensive rebounding opportunities.
Who gives a shit if this is probably a travel? It looks AWESOME:
Horford with the dunk of a man a decade younger to quiet the ATL crowd’s boos:
TWEET OF THE NIGHT:
Celtics nation with high schadenfreude over LeBron James’ continued inability to just SAY THINGS IN PUBLIC: