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Hawks unable to keep up with Celtics, fall to 0-2 series hole

The series now shifts to Atlanta for Game 3.

Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics - Game Two Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks fell to a 0-2 series deficit with a 119-106 defeat to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Tuesday night.

Dejounte Murray scored 29 points with Trae Young adding 24 points. For the Celtics, Jayson Tatum scored 29 points, Derrick White added 26 points.

The Hawks started this game off in a great manner, running out to a 10 point lead early in this one before the Celtics responded and retook the lead before the end of the first quarter. From there, the hosts never looked back and ran out to a double-digit lead before opening a margin as large as 20 points in the third quarter.

The Hawks did well to bring down this lead to single digits before the end of the third quarter thanks to a 13 point Murray third quarter but when the fourth quarter came the Hawks attempted to really get back into the game either only for the Celtics to respond at almost every turn or the Hawks to miss an opportunity.

When Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a three-pointer to cut the lead down to eight points:

Derrick White immediately hit a three to take it back to 11 points:

When Bogdanovic again hits a three to cut the lead back to eight points:

The Celtics, again, immediately respond again through White:

Murray left Bogdanovic in a tough spot allowing Malcolm Brogdon to get by and force the step-up from Bogdanovic, opening a window for White.

The Celtics briefly ran their lead up to 13 but a pair of Young free throws and this steal and finish cut the Celtics’ lead, again, back to single digits:

This was short-lived, with Tatum immediately responding with a three after the screen-and-fade with White:

(De’Andre Hunter has to at least get a hand up to contest here.)

For every punch the Hawks had in them to get this game back down to single-digits in the fourth, the Celtics had a counter-punch for them. Almost every instance of the Hawks getting back to single-digits was immediately undone by the Celtics on the following possession, and that had to be back-breaking. Eventually it was one straw too many and the Celtics’ lead quickly ballooned to its largest lead of 22 points before the end of the game, leaving the Hawks with it all to do as the series shifts back to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder drew positives from Atlanta’s start to the game and how his side were within touching distance in the fourth quarter, before the game opened up again.

“I thought we started the game really, really well and we were playing really well,” said Snyder. “Mid-way through the first quarter we went through a long stretch where we didn’t score and they were able to exploit that the other way in transition, now we’re playing from behind for the majority of the game. I think it was a nine point game with like seven minutes to go — similar situation: we’re right there. They’re a really good team and at that moment I think we missed something at the rim, they hit a couple of threes and the lead bumps back up. We’ve just got to continue to play together. We’ve touched some things that we need to continue to do and just do it for longer.”

Snyder spoke before the playoffs about how the Hawks needed to sustain their play for quarters, halves, games, a series if they were going to have success in this series and the Hawks came out and showed that in the first quarter but couldn’t sustain it even across the entirety first quarter.

The Celtics sustained a high level of play through much of this game, particularly when it came to scoring in the paint, where they registered 64 points to the Hawks’ 40. Surprisingly, the Hawks did more damage from three in this game but their percentage wasn’t great: 16-of-48 for 33%. The Celtics shot 15-of-33 for 45.5%. Part of the reason for this was because the Celtics did well often to prevent the Hawks getting into pick-and-roll and prevent penetration, forcing the Hawks to settle a bit more on the perimeter.

I think the most damaging thing to come from this game was the fact the Hawks actually out-shot the Celtics, grabbed 19 offensive rebounds and still lost comfortably by double-digits. You always figured that if the Hawks did manage to somehow (given the season-series disparity) outshoot the Celtics — or match them at least — shooting the three, you’d have to think they stood perhaps a good chance. But for the Hawks to lose as they did despite’s hard to envision challenging them in this series.

Granted, this was always likely to be the case but to actually see that scenario happen and still lose like that might have hit some differently.

The Hawks were additionally not helped by their bench, who did not give them the lift required, other than Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 18 points off the bench on 7-of-11 shooting and 4-of-7 from three showing and Oneyeka Okongwu’s occasional highlight play. Saddiq Bey was 0-of-4 from the field and atrocious defensively, while Jalen Johnson struggled in his four minutes in the first half and wasn’t seen again. Comparing their efforts to the Celtics’ bench and how they can call upon Robert Williams III and Malcolm Brogdon (who didn’t shoot well but made a big impact)’s a tough matchup for the Hawks.

It was also difficult for the Hawks’ front-court to really get involved in this game. For a team who runs a lot of pick-and-roll, the Celtics have done an excellent job taking that threat away from John Collins and Clint Capela with their switching. Capela played just 21 minutes while Collins was made more into a jumpshooter, and while he found his shot again after the All-Star break he could only make 1-of-7 from three last night.

Collins did, however, grab four offensive rebounds, as did Hunter, as the Hawks collected 19 offensive rebounds but were quite wasteful with these second chances, only scoring 13 points off of these 19 offensive rebounds. 13 points on 19 offensive boards is a poor return and this could have been a tighter affair when it mattered had the Hawks done a better job taking their second chances.

After Okongwu does well to save the possession after a missed shot, Bey misses a good opportunity on the second chance possession:

After Capela secures the loose following a Collins miss from the corner, the Hawks almost immediately turn the ball over as the ball bobbles out of Murray’s hands and out of bounds:

Off of a miss from a settled shot from Young, Okongwu grabs the rebound but can’t convert the second chance opportunity:

These were just a few opportunities the Hawks left on the table, and against a strong Celtics side you just have to do better in these second chance opportunities.

Young was responsible for a few of those misses that turned into offensive rebounds, scoring 24 points on 9-of-22 shooting, 2-of-8 from three to go with five turnovers on six assists. Young was able to get behind the defense on a few occasions to get to the rim but more often than not he was forced to settle into a jumpshot rather than get into this floater/driving off of pick-and-roll and if he does the Celtics are waiting for him.

Snyder was asked about Young postgame and discussed how the Celtics cut off the Hawks’ ball-handlers — including Young — and how making the right read is key for them when the floor is being shrunk.

“The situations we found ourselves in as a group — and Trae’s going to be in them because he’s handling the ball, DJ was in them as well, Bogi was in them — but those guys, in situations where teams shrink the floor, just being able to make a read,” said Snyder. “Sometimes it’s a simple play but it’s not as easy to recognize it. Those were the situations I felt Boston—they’re long and they shrink the floor and we’re driving and we need to get off it at times. It’s everyone. Trae’s competing. The ball hasn’t gone in for him the way it can and will. He’s not different than anyone else on our team as far as us finding a rhythm together, and we had it tonight at the beginning of the game. Trae and DJ together were terrific.”

When the Hawks get into those situations where Snyder talks about ‘being able to make a read’ and the Hawks end up in traffic, it gets away from where Snyder would like the Hawks’ shots to come from.

“I think our focus is ‘take the shots we get’ and the way that they’re shifted if those shots are open we want to take them” said Snyder. “I still feel like when we turn them down and get into traffic the result isn’t as good.”

Going back to Snyder’s comments on Dejounte Murray, he was strong in Game 2, scoring 29 points on 11-of-24 shooting from the field and 7-of-13 from three. Murray had it going in the third where he scored 13 and helped drag the Hawks back into this one having trailed by 20 points. Murray has been hit-and-miss from three this season and it’s unfortunate on a night where he hits seven threes the Hawks are unable to take advantage of that performance.

This was also an odd game from a free throw shooting perspective: both teams combining for just 18 free throws (10 for Boston, eight for Atlanta). The officials kept a tight whistle but to be fair I thought there were only a few calls that really got away: it was just one of those games and the officials swallowed the whistle and it was the same for both teams, which is all you can really ask for. Young himself said postgame the officiating was fine. Sure, there were one or two calls he wanted during this game but that’s the same for every game and when Young is frustrated with the officials he usually ends up with a technical foul in the game, which wasn’t the case last night.

The Hawks usually count on more free throws but in this department things were very much even between the two sides.

In reality though, the Celtics’ life was a bit too easy offensively, shooting 55.8% from the field. They made some tough baskets, it must be said, but also punished the Hawks in high-percentage areas, shooting 31-of-46 at the rim (67%).

Tatum and Brown combined for 24 of the Celtics’ 64 paint points, which is to be expected (almost surprising it wasn’t more) but it was Derrick White who excelled last night, scoring 18 points in the paint as well as hitting two threes.

White has scored 24 and 28 points respectively in these first two games — he has been fantastic so far in this series.

“He’s playing great basketball,” said Snyder of White. “He’s opportunistic in some of the things he does but he also stands alone, he’s assertive getting in the lane, attacking the rim, he’s made big threes — off the dribble too, which are hard to guard when he’s big at 6-5. He’s played very well.”

Jayson Tatum scored 29 points, 18 of them coming in the first half. In the second half, we saw the Hawks double him a bit more and Tatum didn’t enjoy as strong of a second half, scoring 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting.

“When Tatum got going we had to be more aggressive, the game dictated that,” said Snyder. “Sometimes that puts you into a mindset but I thought the same thing offensively. We started attacking and when they collapsed we move it too. That’s something we’re still trying to find and make a habit out of.”

Tatum has still been fantastic in this series so far — his level of shot-making is something else at times, as is his foot-work as he works his way into the paint.

The Celtics were well worth their victory; on both ends of the floor.

The way in which they’re easing in this series is indicative of why so many favor them in the Eastern Conference. Even speaking postgame, Tatum said the Celtics have another level they can go to, and you just get the sense that they feel this is truly is a warm-up for their larger aspirations. The Hawks, I do think they also have another level too: there’s another level higher than Trae Young shooting 9-of-22, John Collins scoring five points and Clint Capela not being as effective as he can be — those are facts.

But is that level higher than the level the Celtics likely have in them? Immediately, I would expect a better game from Jaylen Brown in Game 3 coming back to his native Georgia for the first time in the playoffs after a quiet 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting.

It’s going to be difficult for the Hawks to win four in the remaining five games in this series especially given how comfortable Boston has looked at times but the first step back begins on Friday.

The first part of this series is over: Boston comfortably held home-court, as was to be expected. Now, the series shifts to Atlanta in what is a must-win game for the Hawks, with no team overcoming a 0-3 series deficit in NBA history.

The Atlanta Hawks have it all to do on Friday for Game 3 at State Farm Arena.

Until next time...