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Kyrie Irving proves to be too much for Hawks as Atlanta comes up short against Boston

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Hawks go toe-to-toe with one of the East’s finest but come out second best.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks went toe-to-toe with the best team in Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics, but couldn’t stop the Celtics from winning their 9th straight game as they beat the Hawks 110-107 in Philips Arena on Monday night.

In what was a very entertaining affair, Dennis Schröder led the Hawks with 23 points on 9-of-20 shooting, while Marco Belinelli added 19 points off the bench.

For the Celtics, they were led by Kyrie Irving’s 35 points while former Hawks Al Horford flirted with a triple-double — 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

Coming up short down the stretch

After being down by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Hawks fought their way back, with the lead swinging back and forth between the two sides. Malcolm Delaney put the Hawks up by two points (103-101) with just over two minutes to go with this big three-pointer.

The Celtics go the other way and try to get Kyrie open by running some screens for him. The Hawks defend the first set well, Horford then sets a good screen to create the marginal (and I mean marginal) separation Kyrie needs to hoist a shot. Kent Bazemore does well to get over it and contest the shot, but Kyrie sinks the three to put the Celtics back on top.

That’s good D but better O — not much Baze could’ve really done there, it was just that kind of night for Kyrie.

Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer was of a similar opinion...

“I don’t know what more Kent Bazemore could have done. He (Irving) still made it.”

With a total of 25 lead changes, it only seemed right that this was how the game would end. The Hawks, now down by one, come the other way. Schröder and Dedmon run a pick-and-roll, and Schröder looks to attack Horford. Schröder pulls up and the shot misses.

Good contest by Horford at a crucial time of the game. You can see that Dennis didn’t look 100% comfortable taking that shot, trying to adjust mid-shot — Horford’s defense definitely caused this to happen.

The Celtics come again, and Kyrie elects to take a contested three-pointer with 10 seconds left on the shotclock, having run absolutely no offense. The shot barely draws iron and the Hawks have another shot to take the lead.

A heat-check, for sure, but a bad shot. You can see Horford was just coming to set a screen too as Kyrie hoisted this one. Hawks dodge a potential bullet.

The Hawks come again, with Schröder out-letting to Baze, who finds the trailer in Dedmon. Dedmon takes the mid-range J, but it misses.

Dedmon was having a great night, and those jumpers were falling throughout the game. This was a decent look, though contested by Horford. If you look around, there wasn’t anything better open to the Hawks at that point. There was, to be fair, 15 seconds on the clock when Dedmon took that shot, so something else could’ve been run, but that was a decent shot at that time.

The Celtics come for what was probably the biggest play down the stretch. Marcus Smart comes off of two screens — one from Horford and the other from Irving (wasn’t much of a screen, to be fair, but he’s in the way) — and manages to turn the corner to get rim-side, whips it out to Tatum in the corner who buries the clutch three to put the Celtics up by four with 47 seconds left and forces Bud into a timeout.

That’s a great shot from Tatum, who has to gather this ball near his feet before rising.

A few things from the Hawks’ point of view...

Luke Babbitt isn’t to blame here. If he doesn’t step in front of Smart, that’s a layup for Smart — he had to leave Tatum.

The two you have to look at are Schröder and Bazemore, could they have done more?

You could argue that Baze doesn’t fight hard enough over the Irving screen but Dennis Schröder also has to take responsibility — he probably needed to be switching onto Smart but sticks tight to Irving instead. He needed to recognise that his teammate, Bazemore, is in trouble and that Baze’s man, Smart, was turning the corner. He could’ve — if he was aware — switched onto Smart (with Baze taking Irving) and stopped the immediate burst toward the rim.

Not sure if this was a great bit of misdirection from the Celtics (using Irving as a decoy) or just a great read from Smart on the fly.

It also looks like the ball was going to be swung back to Horford, but you can see that as soon as Smart realised — since Bazemore didn’t get over Irving and Dennis had his back turned — he had a space to drive into and he went for it.

I don’t know if it’s Dennis’ fault (for not switching/being alert to the threat) or Baze’s fault (for not fighting harder over the screen) or brilliant misdirection from the Celtics (because you would’ve imagined Kyrie would’ve been on-ball here but acts as a screen setter).

Either way, the C’s are up by four with not a lot of time remaining for the Hawks to do anything about it.

Out of the timeout, Marco Belinelli draws a shooting foul and gets himself to line where he dispatches two free throws to bring the Hawks to within two points, time barely elapsing.

This time up the floor, Kyrie is handling the ball, and he goes one-on-one with Dennis. He directs traffic on the left wing and isolates himself. As ‘go-time’ approaches, Horford — who was positioned near the top of the key — moves towards the baseline, dragging Dedmon with him. Into that vacated space comes Kyrie, who sheds Dennis at the last second and is unfazed by the help of Delaney, and his floater is good.

Dennis could’ve done better staying in front of Kyrie, but that’s a quality shot by Kyrie.

Dennis tries to respond — now down four with minimal time remaining — with a quick-fire three, but it’s short and the effectively ends the ball game.

A tough loss for the Hawks, who just couldn’t execute down the stretch. Throughout this season, they’ve been in with a shout of winning games but have fallen just short.

“We’re close,” said Malcolm Delaney postgame. “We just have to learn how to win games. We’ve proven we can play with anybody when we play well. I think we can build off of this and hopefully we get a little momentum.”

The Hawks shot 48% from the field, 50% from three, put up 107 points on a team that allowed an NBA-best 93.2 points heading into the night and fought back from a 10 point hole in the fourth quarter against what is, obviously, a better team... Even though a loss is a loss, you can’t ask for a lot more last night than what the Hawks gave.

The crowd really got into it too, rallying behind the home team in a way you’d expect come playoff time. And that was great to see/hear (the Kyrie “MVP” chants from the Celtics faithful, not as much).

Coach Bud took a lot of positives away from the game.

“Really, really competitive,” said Bud postgame. “... A lot of good stuff for us. I’m proud of the way our guys competed ... To compete the way we did and give ourselves a chance to win…we got better tonight and we can learn from it. We can execute down the stretch better. The most important thing is how we competed, and I think we got better tonight.”

Kyrie Irving

You have to give Kyrie a lot of credit, he was truly the difference in this game — 35 points on 14-of-22 shooting, and came up with some clutch plays as we just discussed.

He also made some plays where you put your hands up and say ‘what do you do?’

Example:

Seriously, what do you do (that is a legal basketball play)?

Coach Bud wasn’t quite sure what else the Hawks could’ve done, either.

“We’ll go back and look at the film,” said Bud. “There was a lot of good defense tonight, despite giving up 110 points and Kyrie going for 35. A lot of his buckets were tough buckets. The one three, there really late, with a minute or minute-and-a-half to go, I don’t know what more Kent Bazemore could have done. He still made it. He plays one-on-one and gets to the middle against Dennis, makes a tough little floater.”

“He’s a tough cover,” Bud continued. “Then he mixes in a backdoor cut here and there and gets an easy one. Those are the ones you have to take away. There was a lot of good defense tonight, a lot of good activity, a lot of good effort.”

Dennis Schröder relished the matchup and learned from it.

“He’s a top point guard in the league,” praised Schröder. “To play against him and compete against him and see what he does, it’s always great to play against the best players in the NBA. I learned tonight.”

Hats off to Kyrie, he was just the best player on the court last night and made winning plays.

Dewayne Dedmon’s big game

Dewayne Dedmon came up with his best game of the season on Monday night — 19 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in 35 minutes of action.

Dedmon had it going inside and out, the mid-range J and three went down for him. He just looked really comfortable in the offense and the right opportunities arose at the right times for him.

“It was one of Dewayne’s better games,” said coach Bud. “A lot of activity. I think he was finding some open spots, getting to the basket for finishing opportunities. I thought he was active on the boards, and (was) active communicating defensively. Just a lot of good stuff from him tonight.”

Dedmon was also the only other starter (along with Dennis) to score in double-digits...

Delaney returns

Malcolm Delaney made his return to the court after being sidelined for two games with an ankle injury, and he came back with aplomb.

After struggling in the first three quarters, Delaney exploded into life in the fourth, hitting three three-pointers as the Hawks made a run for this game, all of which injected great life into the Hawks’ offense at crucial times and injected energy into the crowd.

His coach was certainly pleased with his efforts.

“Different guys stepping up tonight ... Malcolm Delaney, coming back off of injury, playing great,” said Bud in his opening statement.

Delaney featured in some interesting lineups too. He picked up where he left off in Philly, where he played off-ball in the second unit with Isaiah Taylor, before playing as part of a three-guard lineup with Taylor and Dennis.

In fact, that Schröder, Delaney, Taylor lineup was plus-9 in eight minutes of play...

It’s a small sample size with this experiment, so keep an eye on it.

Young guns limited

The Hawks’ young guys struggled to make strong impacts in this game as they have in previous games.

Taurean Prince — after putting together a fine run of form — struggled as he scored seven points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field. Prince started off this game aggressively, but, as has been the case sometimes in other games, faded out and you forgot he was on the floor at times.

John Collins, meanwhile, was plagued by foul trouble in this game, and his productivity was limited — eight points and one rebound in 15 minutes.

These are both young players who will go through growing pains like these, particularly Collins with foul trouble. I’d be less worried about Prince. Last time he had a game like this (three points vs Chicago), he would average 17.2 points per game in his next five games.

Let’s see how they both bounce-back. Speaking of...

Marco Belinelli’s bounce-back game

After a cold stretch running back to last Wednesday’s Philadelphia game, Marco Belinelli returned to form, busting out of his 2.7 points per game on 10% shooting from the field, 9% from three shooting slump with 19 points on 6-of-10 from the field and 2-of-5 from three.

It was a quiet 19 points, it has to be said. When Belinelli gets going, it’s loud and you usually know all about it, but this was a quiet 19, but a very welcome 19 nevertheless after his recent shooting woes.

“Different guys stepping up tonight ... Marco Belinelli coming back after not having what he expects and what we expect of him the last couple of games,” said Bud postgame.

The Marco Belinelli experience, it’s quite something.

The Kent Bazemore Technical Foul Counter

Ah yes, another game, another technical foul for Kent Bazemore.

He picked another one up last night, after he took exception to an offensive foul that was charged on him, taking his total to an NBA-high of 4 — yes, that’s right, no other player has more technical fouls so far this season than Kent Bazemore.

This isn’t much of a surprise, as Baze is constantly complaining about calls and yapping to officials.

So, inspired by this latest technical, I’m now officially introducing ‘The Kent Bazemore Technical Foul Counter’, keeping track of Baze’s techs and we’ll see how many he picks up by the end of the season. Every time he picks one up, it’s being mentioned (at least by me).

So far, he has four techs in 11 games...

Speaking of Baze’s game, it was tough going on the offensive end — five points on 1-of-7 shooting. Baze is now averaging 12.5 points on a career-low 35% shooting from the field...

Rest in peace, Mike Muscala’s man-bun...

After living life atop Mike Muscala’s head for over a year now, it seems like it’s all over for the man-bun...

Muscala missed his second straight game last night with an ankle injury, and as he went over to greet his former teammate Al Horford, the cameras would show what we now know to be true...

It is done. I would say ‘the dream is over’, but I’m not one for man-buns... Though Moose’s man-bun was actually grand (I’ve seen much worse) and suited him, alas, it is now gone...

R.I.P.


The Hawks (2-9) get an opportunity to rest before returning to action on Friday, when they’ll take on the Detroit Pistons, in Detroit, and get their first taste of their new aLittle Caesars Arena.