The Atlanta Hawks made their way to Boston on Friday night to do battle with the Celtics. The Celtics were without their superstar guard Kemba Walker, but still were favored by 10.5 points in the game.
The Hawks rolled out Trae Young (returning after a two-game absence), Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and John Collins to start and that smaller unit got off to a very good start.
Atlanta and Boston were back and forth for the opening three minutes of the game, but then the Hawks took off and really started to mount a huge lead. Collins was a focal point of the offense as the Hawks ran a bevy of pick and rolls including Collins and Young.
The Hawks went on a 12-0 run through the middle part of the first quarter to open up a 12 point lead. Then, went on an 11-1 run to build the lead to as many as 18 points. The quarter could’ve ended much better, but multiple turnovers in the final minute lead to the Celtics scoring 8 points in the final 54 seconds.
When the first quarter was over Atlanta found themselves up 32-19, but with Boston starting to turn the momentum after that disastrous final minute.
The woes of that final first quarter minute continued into the second quarter as the Celtics lead off with a quick 7-0 run. Boston began to make an effort to run all of their offense through Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and it worked as the Hawk wings began to pile up the fouls trying to guard those two.
Atlanta responded to the punch with a heavy dose of Young, who scored 11 points in the second period, and were able to stabilize the free fall. DeAndre’ Bembry found himself forced into the action with the fouls mounting and got into trouble himself. Boston shot 17(!) free throws in the first half alone while the Hawks attempted just 8.
Thankfully, the Hawks great shooting beyond the arc was enough to lift Atlanta above the rebounding and free throw deficits as the Hawks shot 40% from three in the first half. At the break the Hawks held a 55-53 lead.
John Collins was masterful in the first half after a strong first quarter and lead the team with 14 points at the break. Collins was also seemingly the only guy who could rebound in the first half as the Hawks were out-rebounded 31-19.
The third quarter was extremely entertaining because both teams were super aggressive. The referees were universally unliked during the quarter as both teams continuously chirped at the touch-y fouls that were being called. That led to some pretty physical basketball.
So physical, in fact, that John Collins injured himself attempting to block a dunk and was forced to leave the game and did not return. Collins landed awkwardly on his hip/glute and limped off to the locker room early in the third, only to be ruled out with what the Hawks called a back contusion.
Young picked up the scoring slack and posted 12 more points in the quarter. Boston regained the lead a couple times as the action went back and forth, but Young always seemed to have an answer.
As the quarter wound down, the Hawks found themselves tied with the Celtics. In the final minute Atlanta took a brief lead again off of a tremendously difficult three pointer by Allen Crabbe, but Gordon Hayward hit a back-breaking three with just over a second remaining in the quarter to put the Celtics up 2 heading into the final frame.
The fourth quarter started out looking pretty bad for the Hawks as Boston quickly outscored Atlanta 10-4 to open the period, but Young entered the game along with Alex Len and things quickly began to re-stabilize. Atlanta was able to close the deficit all the way back down to 2 points with 7:32 remaining in the game, but the Celtics really started to go back to Brown and Tatum.
Atlanta was effectively destroyed inside in Boston, but especially once Collins was forced from the game. Boston out-rebounded the Hawks by a final margin of 54-42 while also scoring 62 points in the paint to Atlanta’s 34.
However, the Hawks made a game of it late closing the deficit to two once again with just 1:28 remaining in the game. Atlanta forced a stop and got a chance to tie, but Young was blocked at the rim to keep the Boston lead intact.
Brown was fouled going the other way and missed both free throws to keep the game at 105-103. Those misses would not prove to be costly though. Alex Len was fouled at the opposite end of the floor and split his two free throws to make the game 105-104, but Marcus Smart hit a rare three pointer to take a four point lead for Boston with 41 seconds remaining.
Atlanta took a timeout and drew up a play for Young which ended in a tip-in layup for Len to make the game 108-106. The Hawks actually ended up with a chance to win things after a turnover by Smart, but Young was blocked on a three-point attempt to effectively seal the win for Boston.
The real fireworks were in the final seconds as Smart rebounded the block, looked at Trae Young and then stepped on him in a taunting fashion. Young (yes, Young) was actually called for a foul and Smart got free throw attempts in controversial fashion.
Did Trae Young foul Marcus Smart here? pic.twitter.com/IyHKY7q11O— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) January 4, 2020
It was a valiant effort from the Hawks against a Celtics team without It was a valiant effort for Hawks against the Celtics but, unfortunately, the loss of John Collins hurt and an already shaky frontcourt aided in Boston taking the win. The Hawks are just really weak on the inside right now and it’ll take a small miracle to hear that Collins will be fully healthy and ready to go tomorrow night on the second half of a back to back.
Nonetheless, Atlanta will be back in action against the Pacers back home tomorrow.
So stay tuned.