We now have ourselves a series.
The Atlanta Hawks missed an opportunity to take a commanding lead over the Boston Celtics in a 111-103 loss Friday night at the Garden. The Hawks rallied back from a 20 point deficit to take the lead in the fourth before a scoreless stretch late ended their comeback bid.
Anyone not expecting a desperate Celtics team to come with a spirited effort was pretty misinformed. Boston took advantage of a raucous Garden crowd and flipped the script on Atlanta with their first quarter performance. After scoring just seven points in Game 2, the Celtics led 37-20 at the end of one on the back of 57 percent shooting and five made three pointers.
That put Atlanta firmly in catchup mode and it is never an easy thing to overcome a deficit like that on the road in the postseason. Mike Budenholzer had this to say about the rough start:
"Our players response could be better but at the same time we were focused, we were ready," Budenholzer said after the game. "They threw a heck of a blow coming out of the first quarter and some nights you’re just on the wrong side of that. Could we be better? Yes, but I’m not overly critical of how we responded or how we came out, or how we met expectations being on the road. We need to be better and that includes on a road game there’s lots of things that add up and hopefully we’ll be that going forward."
In many ways, Games 1 & 2 may have been a feeling out process for both Brad Stevens and Mike Budenholzer and the chess match has now actually begun. Boston switched up its starting lineup prior to the game replacing Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger with Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko.
While the changes may have minimal impact over the entire series, switching Jerebko for a struggling Sullinger seemed to give Boston life right off the bat. Jerebko finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds but helped provide space on the offensive end of the floor which was something that point guard Isaiah Thomas took advantage of.
Despite the hot start by everyone wearing green, Thomas was the player that the Hawks had little answer for in Game 3. He carried the Celtics with a career-best 42 points.
Thomas attacked the paint and hurt the Hawks in transition from the three-point line. Stevens also utilized him off the ball more in Game 3 which will force the Budenholzer and his staff to make adjustments heading into Game 4.
At the end of the day, it is a loss and it is a loss that gives the Celtics hope that they can turn this into a series. Yet the Hawks were able to weather the storm after Boston landed a knockout punch in the first quarter and did so without significant offensive contributions from Paul Millsap or Al Horford. The Celtics knocked down 11 three pointers in the game while the Hawks made just nine and shot 25 percent from the arc. Boston certainly had something to do with that but it remains to be seen if that sustainable going forward.
Hawks awaiting league review of Thomas' slap
Mike Budenholzer told reporters following the game that he expects the league to review a sequence from the first quarter where Isaiah Thomas landed a blow to Dennis Schröder's head. No foul was called on the play, but Schröder countered with a hard foul at the other end of the floor that Thomas took exception to. That set the stage for what was overall a chippy night that included several flagrant fouls.
Thomas told the AP afterwards that he wasn't worried about being suspended because the contact was incidental.
"I'm not, because I didn't mean to hit him in the head," Thomas said. "He got mad, he was talking. But it's playoff basketball, that's what it's about. I'm not gonna back down from anybody. And he knows that."
Korver foul trouble prompts Budenholzer to turn to Teague, Schröder pairing
With Kyle Korver saddled with foul trouble, Mike Budenholzer turned to the dual point guard lineup for a couple of stretches in Game 3. Teague finished with 23 points and five assists while Schröder added 20 points and a pair of assists off the bench.
With Boston's ability to play small, there is a good possibility that we see this look more going forward. It came at the expense of Tim Hardaway Jr who played just over four first half minutes.