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Hawks unable to keep pace in loss to Celtics

Some hot shooting kept the Hawks close but not close enough.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to follow their victory in Washington with another victory, falling 113-103 against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Sunday night.

Trae Young led the way with 33 points, while Bogdan Bogdanovic added 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting from three. For the Celtics, Jayson Tatum scored 34 points with Jaylen Brown adding 21 points.

On the second night of a back-to-back — and fresh off the news that Jalen Johnson would miss the next 4-to-6 weeks — the Hawks faced a tough prospect heading into Boston, even if the hosts were without Kristaps Pozingis and Jrue Holiday. And so it proved to be, with the Celtics running out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter and eventually running out to a 20-point lead in the third quarter. The Hawks, to their credit, dug in, and thanks to hot shooting from Young, De’Andre Hunter, and Bogdanovic, they rallied to bring this back to a single-digit game.

But the Hawks couldn’t find a way to breakthrough in the fourth quarter and were unable to bring the lead below eight points as the Celtics saw the game out — the Hawks’ hot shooting from their main three last night cooled off.

In his opening statement, head coach Quin Snyder talked about playing through adversity, acknowledging the Celtics were just much better than the Hawks last night.

“I think the Celtics obviously played a lot better than we did,” said Snyder. “We talked about adversity and, whatever that adversity is, being able to play through. Going to continue to have that, particularly on the road, and that has to be our focus. We can’t let anything deter us from focusing on the things we need to do to win the game.”

A large aspect of the postgame questioning surrounded heavy legs on the second night of a back-to-back, with both Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic acknowledging the Hawks’ legs were heavy.

“A lot of it is a mentality thing,” said Young. You try not let it affect you, even though it’s a real thing. Traveling, getting into another city late at night and having to rest, and today was an early game too so not having the same amount of rest could hurt — I’m not going to saying it did — but I think you definitely saw some guys have heavy legs. It’s going to happen on back-to-back nights.”

“I think the back-to-back got us tonight, had a bit of heavy legs,” added Bogdanovic. “We got in at 1 a.m., fall sleep around three, 6 p.m. game... That’s something a little bit harder than the regular games when you have a day in between. It’s all mental. You have to find energy, got to find that boost that you have when you’re fresh. It’s hard it to find when you’re tired, but it’s that experience.”

Snyder talked about the mental side of the fatigue and detailed how that can affect you on the court.

“You have to recognize that you’re in that place,” said Snyder of heavy legs on the second night of a back-to-back. “The mental fatigue as much as anything can wear on you where you lose sight of some of the little [things]. You’re just maybe a step slow, a little disconnected and not communicating as well. Those are things we’ll continue to talk about. Tonight, there was a number of areas where needed to be better.”

One of those areas in which the Celtics convincingly topped the Hawks was points off of turnovers: 26 points off of 15 Atlanta turnovers. Live-ball turnovers were an issue for the Hawks at times, and the Celtics did well to score off of some of these in transition.

Rebounding was another issue for the Hawks — the Celtics out-rebounded the visitors 58-43, including 18 offensive rebounds leading to 17 second chance points. The Hawks are obviously impacted by the loss of Johnson in this regard, and while Snyder acknowledged his impact on the glass he was insistent, the Hawks cannot use this as an excuse and need to rebound collectively.

“JJ is big and he’s one of our better rebounders,” said Snyder. “Not having him is going to impact that, there’s no question. That said, that’s not an excuse for us. JJ is going to be out for a little while. I thought as the game progressed, we have to gang-rebound. We’re undersized sometimes, and that doesn’t have to be determinative, it just means we’ve got to find ways to get people off the glass ... no one player is going to dictate that, we have to do that collectively.”

“We are way better rebounders than this,” added Bogdanovic.

Clint Capela was active on the glass early on (though, missing a few bunnies on his offensive rebounds), but Onyeka Okongwu struggled — making up 5% of the Hawks’ rebound rate last night, per NBA Stat’s advanced stats. When Capela was off the floor, it was a disaster rebounding the ball:

The other issue present was that when Capela was on the floor the Celtics just stood off of Capela, and it basically forced the Hawks to take Capela off the floor. There’s a sentiment that Capela was costly in this game, I wouldn’t go that far. I think anyone who wasn’t De’Andre Hunter, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Trae Young didn’t have a good game and blame can be apportioned all around outside of those three. Dejounte Murray in particular struggled, scoring six points on 2-of-13 shooting — it’s the third game in a row where Murray has really struggled shooting the ball, his early season form now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

Between Hunter (5-of-11), Young (6-of-16) and Bogdanovic (7-of-10) catching fire from three, this game would’ve been out of range a whole lot earlier. They were fantastic, Bogdanovic in particular who was 7-of-7 from three up until the third quarter and believes he could’ve played even better.

“It was a good performance, but I think I could even play better, shoot a little more when I’m hot like this, demand the ball,” said Bogdanovic.

Young, meanwhile, has now hit five or more threes in a game in his last four games and is now shooting 36.5% from three for the season.

“I think his three-point shooting is a big part of his game,” said Snyder of Young. “He had a lot going on at the beginning of the season. He had a baby. He’s been really committed to running the team in a way that where we’re attacking collectively, and he’s beginning to find windows during the course the game, he’s recognizing when he’s open and he’s not hesitating. I think that’s reflected in his three-point shooting.”

The Hawks got up a season-high 53 three-point attempts but this was largely Young, Bogdanovic and Hunter riding hot hands. They combined for 18 of the Hawks’ 19 threes (18-of-37), the rest of the Hawks combined were 1-of-16 from three.

All things considered, a loss in Boston (the NBA’s best team at the moment, and undefeated at home) on the second night of a back-to-back shouldn’t merit overreaction. I do think the larger takeaway/concern (besides Murray’s struggles at the moment) is the rebounding, and it’s not going to go anywhere while Johnson is out for this period. Saddiq Bey, Okongwu and even Capela are going to have to be better on the glass than they were last night. The Hawks’ next game will be a big test in that regard...


The Hawks (8-8) are back in action on Tuesday when they take on the Cleveland Cavaliers (9-8) in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers possess quite a lot of height and size, so it’ll be a test for their rebounding.

Until next time...