The Atlanta Hawks returned to winning ways with a big victory in Boston against the Celtics on Wednesday night, coming out on top 122-114.
Trae Young led the way with 40 points while Clint Capela added 24 points and 13 rebounds. For the Celtics, Jayson Tatum scored 35 points. Jaylen Brown scored 22 points.
With the Celtics missing Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis, the Celtics were missing one of their better offensive players but also missing perimeter defense and interior defense — and Atlanta took advantage of all three of those absences.
The Hawks got out to a great start in the first half, shooting over 60% in the first half in addition to shooting 81% at the rim in the first half en route to 40 first half points in the paint. The Hawks were able to get whatever they wanted in the paint/at the rim, fueling them to 62 first half points.
Let’s take a look at a few of these, because the ease of the how the Hawks scored in the first half was one of the contributing reasons to them collecting this victory.
When Tristan Thompson was on the floor and the only big on the floor for the Celtics, the Hawks could put him through the pick-and-roll and if Young/the ball-handler gets in front and can either go for the basket themselves or find the roll-big if the opposing big commits.
Here, Young gets inside on the pick-and-roll, Thompson back-pedals but doesn’t want to fully commit to Young with Capela looking and Young scores inside:
In the high pick-and-roll, John Collins slips the pick-and-roll and is basically free behind the defense as soon as he slips, his pace and athleticism too much for the Celtics to handle inside. Young finds Collins for the basket plus the foul:
Again in the pick-and-roll, Jaylen Brown is guarding Young with Thompson guarding Capela. Thompson has to commit to Young, leaving Capela free to roll to the rim with no chance of any Celtics help to prevent the basket at the rim:
Here, Cam Reddish comes off of the Capela screen, driving inside and whipping out a lovely step-through to get around the defense to finish at the rim:
The Hawks scored 11 second chance points in the first half, as well as eight fast break points, with Collins and Capela able to punish the Celtics’ lack of size and rebounding and the Hawks attacking the Celtics in transition.
For the Hawks’ first basket of the game, Capela receives the ball in transition and whips out a beautiful step to finish at the rim:
In transition, Young leads the charge before passing it off to Collins, who unselfishly gives it up to Capela to finish at the rim:
On the miss from Gallinari, Capela is there to collect the second chance opportunity:
You get the idea...
The Celtics did a better job in the second half limiting the Hawks’ opportunities inside the paint, with Robert Williams in particular being a lot more disruptive defensively in the second half.
The Hawks showed strong resilience in the second half, building a nine point lead in the third quarter before the Celtics responded. Multiple times in the second half the Hawks would push their lead to the 7-9 point range before the Celtics would respond and cut it to three/four points. For every mini-run the Celtics had, the Hawks had an answer.
The Hawks took a nine point lead into the dreaded fourth quarter, a quarter where — it’s well documented — the Hawks have struggled in. With Jayson Tatum rolling and making some very tough baskets all game long, the Celtics still stood a chance.
Trae Young struggled in the fourth quarter against the Knicks on Monday but showed no signs of any such struggle in Boston as he erupted for 16 fourth quarter points on 6-of-7 shooting.
To get his fourth quarter underway, Young finds himself with the space to pull-up from deep three-point range to put the Hawks up by seven:
This was one such example of the Celtics, who cut into the Hawks’ nine point lead to bring it to three points before Young buries this deep three to put the Hawks back up by seven.
Where Young really took over in the fourth quarter was inside the last five minutes as he threw haymaker after haymaker on the Celtics, his second three of the fourth quarter here putting the Hawks up by 13 points, their largest lead of the night at that time:
The ironic thing about this play was, prior to this, the Celtics decided to intentionally foul Clint Capela after the Hawks reached the bonus with half of the quarter to go. Capela missed his first two but made his second two. The Celtics, on this possession, elected not to go back to it and all you could really do was chuckle when the one time they didn’t go back to it, Young drains the three-pointer.
After the Celtics respond with a three from the resulting timeout, Young responds as he drains the long two with Thompson contesting after the switch on the screen:
The Hawks — on more than one occasion — allowed the Celtics to hang around longer than they should have and the Celtics closed the gap to make it a game again with a 6-0 run. Young breaks that run as he comes off of the double screen (screen-and-a-half with Solomon Hill screening to the three-point line), gets downhill and finishes at the rim:
After getting the defensive stop, the Hawks let Young do the same thing again — though, this time, Solomon Hill is away from the action — as he comes off of the Capela slip, gets downhill and his layup counts on the goaltending call:
The Celtics really missed Robert Williams being in at this part of the game — he had already played six minutes in the fourth quarter at the front end of the quarter. Without him, these looks at the rim for Young got a lot easier.
With the Hawks now back up by 10 with under two minutes remaining, they looked safe, and they did so again when Young reestablishes their double-digit lead with just over a minute to go as he hits the pull-up dagger at the end of the shot clock:
The Hawks did their best to give this game away in the remaining 1:16 but eventually prevailed, with Young’s 16 fourth quarter points helping them secure a much-needed victory to break the Hawks’ four game losing streak.
Postgame, acting head coach Nate McMillan — filling in as head coach for the first of two games in Boston — congratulated Lloyd Pierce on the birth of his second child before praising the Hawks’ effort on the night.
“I thought they did a good job,” said McMillan postgame. “I thought they were connected out there on both ends of the floor. Defensively, we had some guys step up. I thought Solomon did a really nice job on Tatum in the second half, just making him work to score. Both units in the second half did a solid job of executing offensively. A few too many turnovers, 15 turnovers, but for the most part they played a 48 minute game and was able to break this losing streak.”
The Hawks have been involved in 17 “clutch” games (a game, defined by NBA dot come as a five, or less, point game in the final five minutes), the second most in the NBA (only trailing, ironically, the Celtics) but hold a 6-11 record in such instances. After coming up short often in these situations, everyone recognized how important it was for the Hawks to come out on top last night.
“It was very important,” said Young on how important closing out a fourth quarter was. “It was something we were all echoing in the huddles late in the game. We wanted to get stops and close out the game. We’ve been in a couple games recently where we had leads and given it up late in the game. We didn’t want to let that happen tonight and it’s a good mentality to have, I think it worked out good for us.”
“I think we stayed focused with our principles,” said Capela of the fourth quarter. “We were able to execute pretty well, what we were supposed to do. Really proud, especially defensively, in the third quarter. We knew that this team is a great third quarter team and we made sure we locked in when we came out of the locker room ... it really helped us to get to that fourth quarter with a lead.”
“We had a different sense of energy, attention to detail,” added John Collins of the fourth quarter. “We just wanted to close this game out. We didn’t want another situation of deja0vu where we have a lead, a fourth quarter lead, and we give it up. I feel like the sense of urgency was there for us tonight especially on the defensive end. We wanted to make plays, we were active.”
When it came to Young, McMillan praised the All-Star guard on how Young was able to get into their offense and how he ‘managed’ the game, not even realizing Young went off for 40.
“That’s what we’ve been talking about with Trae,” said McMillan of Young. “He has to show that growth of managing a game, whether we’re up or down in the fourth quarter. We talk about his turnovers, I thought he did a good job tonight — when we didn’t have anything early — getting us organized and executing down the stretch, taking what the defense gave him. I didn’t realize he had 40 points. He just did a good job managing the offense as well as he defense, I thought he established the tempo that we wanted and did a good job of executing down the stretch.”
Young finished with 40 points 14-of-20 shooting from the field, 4-of-9 from three and 8-of-8 from the free throw line, as well as notching his 4,000th career point — 16 coming in the fourth quarter as mentioned.
“I tried to find a rhythm throughout the whole game and playing aggressive,” said Young of his 16 point fourth quarter. “When you got that aggressive mentality, shots and open shots find them on their own. That’s kind of what happened in the fourth.”
Young’s floater has been a little absent in terms of percentages from last season, but he was able to hit that shot with great consistency last night, which Young believes opening things up for both his teammates and himself.
“That always helps,” said Young of hitting his floaters. “For me, my floater is something I can use as a tool to get others going, to get myself going. I know if I can get to the middle of the lane, a lot of teams give up those floaters. For me, focusing on working on that every day, continue to do what I’ve been doing since I was five years old and working on my floaters in the middle of the lane and hope they continue to drop. I’ve got to continue to work on them.”
Some (nonsensically) attributed Young’s scoring output to a difference in coaching, but when asked postgame about any differences between the two, Young was quick to downplay difference.
“There wasn’t a difference,” said Young of the coaching differences between Pierce and McMillan on the game. “We still played the same, same offense, same stuff. Nothing different.”
The degree of difficulty on shots Young took at times last night was quite high, he just happened to make them and the Hawks benefited greatly from his performance. Between his brilliance and the Celtics missing Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis to attack the perimeter and the rim, Young was always likely to succeed in this spot — it has literally nothing to do with the fact McMillan was coaching instead of Pierce. The notion that the offensive performance was keyed by the coaching switch is silly, and we won’t even get into some of the rather gross comments made by individuals on social media about Pierce as word broke that he and his wife were welcoming his second child into the world, a truly joyous occasion for the Pierce family as human beings. Of course, people are entitled to their opinions on the head coach’s performance, and there is a divide in the view of Pierce to be sure, but there’s a time and a place. Be better.
Anyways, after scoring 40 points in the paint in the first half, things slowed on that front in the second half but the Hawks still scored 60 points in the paint for the game.
“Just by making sure we set good screens, roll hard to the paint, make ourselves available and make sure we finish hard, with confidence and doing it over and over again to put pressure on that paint ... it was great tonight,” said Capela of the paint scoring.
McMillan was pleased with this as it reflected the Hawks’ aggressiveness while opening other opportunities, and Pierce would have wanted.
“This is what coach Pierce has been talking about with our guys is not settling, taking those quick contested shots early in the shot clock,” said McMillan. “Get movement, get the ball from side-to-side, get into penetration and kick, make teams defend and we got that tonight. We had a lot of penetration, 60 points in the paint. That shows aggressiveness which is what we want. We feel that will create opportunities on the perimeter and rhythm shots. It was a really nice job by the guys tonight.”
That side-to-side action McMillan mentioned was perhaps no better displayed than in the second quarter when the Celtics would double Danilo Gallinari on the block when holding a significant size advantage. The Hawks worked the ball and created good looks while that was occurring, shots like this Cam Reddish three-pointer in the corner:
Speaking of Reddish, this may have been one of his best games of the season — on both ends.
Defensively, Reddish was so impressive at times. There were a few reasons behind Jaylen Brown’s 6-of-20 night shooting from the field and Reddish was one of those.
One-on-one, Reddish excellently contests Brown’s jumper as he drives to shake-and-bake Reddish:
Nice help by Young too, with McMillan praising Young’s defense postgame.
“I really felt the last few games he’s done a good job of defending,” said McMillan of Young. “Coach (Pierce), his thought was ‘we’re going put him on his matchup.’ We’re not going to put him off of the ball, there’ll be some times where we may make that adjustment. Three or four games ago, Trae has had to guard his matchup. It started with Brogdan, I thought he did a really nice job defenively guarding Malcolm when we played the Pacers. New York, he did a pretty good job in that game. Tonight, if Kemba was going to play, that was going to be his matchup. He’s been challenged by Coach to get out there and defend, work at it, play both ends of the floor. He did a solid job again tonight, being in the right position and making guys score over the top.”
An interesting quote but I do wonder how this will hold up when the Hawks play their first legitimately challenging offensive point guard with this approach in the form of Kemba Walker on Friday, and going forward.
Anyways, back to Reddish, here was another great defensive play on Brown as he gets into the paint, kills his dribble, swivels each-and-every way before Reddish contests the shot, resulting in an airball:
Not much was said about Reddish’s defense postgame but it was a return of the sort of defense everyone saw a little more regularly last season down the stretch. Certainly, he was very good last night.
Speaking of defense, Solomon Hill was the preferred for much of the fourth quarter over Collins to help with the Tatum matchup, something, postgame, McMillan said Collins was supportive of (as well as Collins himself).
“...Always happy for my teammates,” said Collins. “Kudos to Solo for going out there and playing his ass off and we got the win tonight,”
All-in-all this was a great win for the Hawks and a much needed win, fueled by their most efficient offensive output of the season as they shot 57% from the field. Defense helped in part (especially on Brown) but this was an offensive win for the Hawks last night. Without the near-collapse at the end, this should’ve been a slightly more convincing victory. For everything Boston had to throw at the Hawks, they seemed to come up with an answer and once they took the lead in the second quarter they never gave it up again.
“You have to build off wins or losses,” said McMillan on building on this result. “It’s always good to build off of a win. We feel we’ve had bad luck with the injuries. We’ve been in some close ball games in the last few weeks and we just haven’t been able to finish. We can’t make excuses about the injuries and the guys we don’t have, we have to play with the guys that we do. We have to make our breaks and I thought tonight we did that. You have to get stops, you have to make baskets in the fourth quarter and I thought we did that tonight. That was the difference in the ball game.”
The Hawks (12-16) will rematch against the Celtics — again in Boston — on Friday night, where Kemba Walker is expected to play, changing the dynamic of the matchup offensively for the Celtics from the guard position.
Until next time...