The Atlanta Hawks tipped off against the Boston Celtics in TD Garden looking to make a major statement in a series where few have given them a chance. Atlanta was fully healthy with multiple days of rest after an impressive Play-In Tournament victory in Miami, in stark contrast to the Game 1 against the Heat in the first round a year ago.
24 minutes of gameplay later, they were left staring at a possibly ridicule-worthy final scoreline. While the Hawks rebounded in the second half and turned a 30-point halftime deficit into a more palatable 13-point loss, at no point was Boston truly pushed or challenged in the contest.
There were a number of ugly box scores: Trae Young with 16 points on 5-for-18 (28%) shooting and five turnovers, Dejounte Murray needing 25 shots to tally 24 points, and a massive 0-fer in all the major recordable areas for De’Andre Hunter in the first half of the contest.
The Hawks made a large effort to overhaul the bench unit during the season. In recent weeks, that group has been a major strength of the team, but that was not the case on Saturday afternoon. The entire bench of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey, Jalen Johnson, and Onyeka Okongwu struggled to generate any offense. That quartet finished with just 24 points on 8-for-30 shooting.
There were numerous breakdowns on defense early, with easy shots at the rim aplenty for the favorites in the first quarter alone. Jayson Tatum, in particular, picked apart the Hawks defense with ease.
Here, Tatum takes advantage of the spacing their 5-out lineups with every Celtic around the arc creates. This means, once he beats De’Andre Hunter off the dribble, there is no help defense nearby to contest Tatum’s shot at the rim.
On this next clip, after some ball movement Tatum is able to isolate on the weak side, and he used the opportunity to post up Dejounte Murray, who is giving up around 30 lbs. in this one-on-one matchup.
Below, as Saddiq Bey fights through a screen to stay attached to Jayson Tatum, Onyeka Okongwu completely loses track of the cutting Robert Williams III. who finishes the easy lob.
And in this last one, Tatum is able to blow by Bey with the screen separation with no real help from Bogdan Bogdanovic in dig position.
Offensively in the first half, things weren’t much better. The Celtics deployed a drop defense with Williams on the floor and allowed the Hawks to regress to bad habits. Not concerned with giving up elbow jump shots, Murray comes free off the screen into space in this clip below. Boston is clearly prioritizing defending the paint and the three-point line here, and Atlanta is the most mid range-dependant teams in the league.
The net effect is this: keep an elite rim protector near the rim to gum up the interior. Here, Trae Young and Jalen Johnson try to run a pick-and-roll. But Williams is able to sniff it out with ease with his drop coverage.
Certainly, there we some unfortunate jump shooting performances that should prove to be unsustainable, as the Hawks began the night 1-for-18 (6%) from three. In the first half, the Hawks shot a brutal 4-for-23 (17%) on jump shots outside of the paint.
The Hawks did some good things in the second half, ultimately posting a 55-38 margin after halftime to bring the final score to a respectable 112-99. Atlanta was able to hold Boston to just 35% shooting from the floor and 24% from three in the second half. But it is hard to separate that improved play with the Celtics possibly letting off the gas.
“Tough first half,” head coach Quin Snyder had to say. “A lot of things that didn’t go our way that we can control and then a few others that are hard to control. But more than anything, I liked how we competed throughout the entire game.”
“You can’t let [Boston] get on that rim,” he continued. “And sometimes that’s hard with the size that they have.”
“You’ve got to force [Boston] to try to take tough twos,” noted Trae Young. “Not overhelp too much, because that’s when they get wide open threes and good looks from the three-point line. We’ve got to do a better job collectively staying in front of our man and not letting them get layups.”
“We came out that first half and I don’t think we was really ready,” said Dejounte Murray bluntly. “Just that competing word. I don’t think we was really competing [or] really locked in like we’ve been in practice.”
With the unsightly first half behind them, the Hawks will have a chance to ride the momentum from the improved second half into a better start in Game 2 on Tuesday evening. But they’ll need to maintain focus and execution for the entire 48 minutes to upset an obviously impressive Boston Celtics team.