It wasn't entertaining or aesthetically pleasing in any real way, but the Atlanta Hawks did what they needed to do. The home team suffocated the visiting Boston Celtics with quality defense for 48 minutes, and with a strong offensive showing at the outset of the night, the Hawks were able to fend off the visitors by a final score of 89-72.
The start to the game was, well, perfection. The Hawks began the night by outscoring the Celtics by a 24-3 margin (not a misprint) and the difference between the two teams was stark. Kyle Korver connected on four three-pointers in the opening minutes, and Jeff Teague engineered the offense beautifully to the tune of seven points and two early assists. On the defensive end, Atlanta locked Boston down as the visitors missed 11 of their first 12 shots and, generally, things were going quite well.
From that point forward until halftime, though, it wasn't nearly as pretty. Neither team scored in the final 3:29 of the first quarter, and even as the Hawks held on to a 17-point lead, the quality of play slipped on the offensive end. Fortunately, the defense remained dominant, holding Boston to just seven points in the first 12 minutes, setting a new NBA Playoff record for scoring futility.
Predictably, the Celtics mounted something of a charge in the third quarter, most notably with an 11-2 spurt to cut the lead to 34-22. Eventually, Boston would climb within just a ten-point spread, but the Hawks did a nice job to quell that momentum before extending the margin back to 15 prior to halftime. Unfortunately, Atlanta's offense continued to sputter, scoring just 19 points total in the final 17:28 of the first half, and despite the positivity of a 15-point halftime lead, there was a sentiment of "what might have been" on the scoreboard.
The third quarter was, in a word, hideous. Neither team could gain any real traction offensively (are you sensing a theme?), but for the home team, a stand-still was just fine. Boston climbed within a 12-point deficit and had the ball in the final seconds, but Marcus Smart tossed up an errant three a few ticks too early, and that helped to result in a converted three from Al Horford at the buzzer. The triple gave Atlanta a 61-46 lead with 12 minutes to play, and with the home team shooting only 34% from the floor, that was a shocking margin.
In timely fashion, the offense improved as the lid remained over Boston's basket on the other end. That allowed the home team to open up a 23-point lead after an 11-2 spurt, and with less than eight minutes to play, the margin looked to be quite safe. On cue, the Celtics answered with eight consecutive points to briefly threaten Atlanta, but that was really the end of the pursuit. The Hawks simply held the line for the remainder of the night on the way to a 89-72 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
For the second straight game, it was the defense that carried the water for Atlanta. The Hawks held the visiting Celtics to 32% shooting from the floor and 18% from three-point range, and they did so by setting a franchise playoff record with 15 blocked shots. Offensively, it was an inconsistent night at best, but the early barrage proved to be the difference, and the quality work of Al Horford (17 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Kyle Korver (17 shots on 9 shots) came in handy in a big way.
The Hawks and Celtics will get together again in Boston on Friday evening, and Atlanta will take a commanding lead into Game 3. Stay tuned.