The Atlanta Hawks staved off elimination with an impressive Game 5 victory in Boston over the Celtics on Tuesday night, 119-117.
Trae Young led the Hawks with 38 points and 13 assists, with John Collins adding 22 points in his best game of the series so far. For the Celtics, Jaylen Brown scored 35 points, Jayson Tatum adding 19 points on a difficult night shooting the ball.
The Hawks entered Game 5 as clear underdogs, and that was before the suspension of Dejounte Murray (Bogdan Bogdanovic starting in his place). As the Celtics again made their run in the second quarter to push their lead to 13 and looked a dominant force attacking the rim you’d be forgiven for thinking the Hawks’ season was going to end this night.
Even heading to the fourth quarter it looked as though there was too much of a hill for the Hawks to climb, trailing by 13 points with 6:10 remaining on the road. However, the Hawks had lingered all throughout this contest and whenever the Celtics threatened to blow this game open the Hawks would always have a basket or a mini-run to stop the bleeding. In the fourth quarter they finally managed to put some stops together and make a run to make this a game — a 12-0 run.
“I think we did what we were doing all game, just being physical” said Trae Young of the 12-0 run. “They missed some tough shots a the end, we forced them to take more tough shots and picked up our energy on that end and pushed the ball on the other end and it worked out for us.”
Two Trae Young threes tied the game at 111 apiece before a Robert Williams III put-back gave the Celtics the lead once again. The Hawks would then have their chance to take the lead after Young was fouled by Al Horford, to which Jayson Tatum displeasure’s earned himself a technical foul and Young dispatched all three free throws to give the Hawks their first lead since they lead 41-39 in the second quarter.
Of all things a wedgie coming off a Young floater led to a jump-ball at center court, off of which the Hawks were completely asleep and Williams’ dunk put the Celtics ahead, but only briefly before Young would go back to the free throw line to give the Hawks the lead again. The Celtics took a timeout where the Hawks, confusingly, subbed in Saddiq Bey for a defensive possession and even when the Hawks took a timeout themselves. Young was then called for a blocking foul near the rim on Derrick White, who gave the Celtics the lead once again with 7.3 seconds remaining.
Out of the timeout came the biggest shot arguably of the series so far with Young canning the 29 footer to give the Hawks a two point lead with 1.3 seconds remaining:
“We were down one so I was trying to get a layup and get into the paint,” said Young of the go-ahead possession. “We had enough time that I could get the ball and dribble down and try to create something and have enough time that I could get someone else the ball too but Jaylen was backing up pretty hard. I think he was expecting me to try to go by him and get to the basket and either get a layup, hit a floater or try draw a foul. I could tell he was backing up and Marcus was sprinting up to trap and at that point I looked up and there was only like three, four seconds left — maybe two — so I just had to trust in what I’ve done my whole life and shoot with confidence.”
“Giving him the ball in space and letting him look to make a play,” said Hawks head coach Snyder of the go-ahead Young possession. “I told him ‘try to get to the rim if you can but if you have space just be instinctive and make a play and we all believe in you.’”
Just an enormous shot from Young: if he misses it’s basically season over.
From the subsequent Boston timeout, the Hawks manage to get a deflection to shave some time off the clock and the Celtics are unable to get a shot off in time (nor did it go in) and the Hawks steal a game on the road to force a Game 6.
Against all the odds the Hawks went to Boston and stole a game, forcing a Game 6 in Atlanta. After Game 4, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder talked about how the Hawks would need multiple performances in Game 5 to have a chance of extending the series. He got that last night, praising his side’s mental fortitude along the way in a game they mostly trailed.
“We got lots of different contributions across the board in lots of different ways,” said Snyder postgame. “Whether it was O on the glass, JC coming up with somd big plays, Bogi all the way through, Hunt’s defense — really a collective effort. As much as anything I think we were tough minded in a very difficult game. It’s tough to be down really through the whole game and just hang in there and hang in there, close the gap, have the lead extend, close the gap again, have the lead extend and we just didn’t capitulate.”
The Hawks outscored the Celtics 37-25 in the final quarter to turn what was an unlikely deficit on the road in the fourth quarter against a team widely considered to make certainly the Eastern Conference Finals — the 12-0 run being of course the key to overturning a deficit the Hawks largely faced for most of the game.
“I think sometimes the game is about making plays,” said Snyder of the fourth quarter run. “Got our hands on a couple of balls, came up with some rebounds, 50-50 balls, Trae tipped one on a rebound that he couldn’t get. I thought offensively we played in a good tempo and that started with Trae. I thought earlier in the game there were times where he knows he wants to make a play and as the game went on I thought his pace got even more controlled and that allows his reads to be better. We made some shots with a bunch of guys in the fourth quarter because we kept shooting.”
Had the Hawks fallen here in Game 5 there would have been a very obvious aspect to point to as to why: the Celtics, as they have done all series, just continue to succeed at the rim and the first half of Game 5 was just another example: it was far, far too easy for the Celtics to break the Hawks down. This barrage subsided somewhat in the second half as the Hawks’ focus shifted to help nudge the Celtics into shooting more threes — an aspect the Hawks convincingly won last night with the Celtics shooting 12-of-38 from three (31.6%) to the Hawks’ 19-of-41 (46.3%).
“You pick your poison with Boston,” said Snyder. “We gave up the rim in the first half, that to me wasn’t a tactical adjustment as much as it was an emphasis and our guys heard what we talked about and we began to shift a little more, help a little more, more timely. We’ve said it and guys are starting to say it to each other it’s great to see Trae take 13 threes, JC took nine. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in right away but we have confidence in each other taking those shots and want to keep shooting. It’s kind of how the game went.”
The Hawks received contributions from across the board as well as from three.
Trae Young led the way with five threes, Bogdan Bogdanovic hit three threes as he stepped into the starting lineup for the suspended Murray, De’Andre Hunter hit three himself, Saddiq Bey hit two off the bench in a strong showing and even Onyeka Okongwu got in on the action hitting a three in the first half.
Then there was John Collins, who enjoyed his best game of the series scoring 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and 4-of-9 from three.
Collins has had a difficult series but when the Hawks absolutely needed someone to step up in the absence of Murray — with their season on the line — Collins did so.
“He’s probably one of the guys that played with a lot of grit tonight,” said Snyder of Collins. “Really proud of him ... he made some rebounds, hit some big shots but in the flow of the game. He didn’t press himself onto the game. There were opportunities for him and we talked about that, just be aggressive, don’t think, be instinctive and we believe in you.”
Collins has seen his already smaller role on offense seemingly reduce further this season and his 18 field goal attempts were the most he’s taken in a game since January 6th — which also marked a season-high in field goal attempts.
“It feels great,” said Collins of having an offensive game. “I’ve been trying to sacrifice and do what I can for the betterment of the team if that means not shooting the ball as much to create space or to create offensive movement I’m willing to do that. Whenever I do get going it feels good, try to keep it going.”
Naturally though, the person who was always going to have to do the most to step up not only in an elimination game but also without Murray was Trae Young, and he delivered. Young scored 38 points on 14-of-33, 5-of-13 from three and 5-of-5 from the line to go with 13 assists, including scoring the last 14 points of the game for the Hawks.
When the Hawks needed a play Young — more often than not — was able to find something in his locker, especially in the second half getting to the rim or to his floater. Crucially, he was able to find his perimeter shot when it mattered most in the fourth quarter. 33 field goals is obviously a lot — so are 19 missed shots — but given the circumstances (elimination, no Murray) I think it’s justified...and the percentages were solid given the volume too, and the fact he played the entire second half.
The Celtics were ahead for the majority of this game but that 12-0 run blew the game wide open and the Hawks, to their credit, made the plays down the stretch on both ends. If the Celtics had won that game I think you could also fairly say they deserved to win that game. And the same goes for the Hawks given what they needed to come back from in the fourth — it was one of those games where, especially after the Hawks’ run, both teams would’ve felt hard done by had they lost.
Despite Brown’s excellent game, Jayson Tatum shot 8-of-21 from the field and 1-of-10 from three and that was a big victory for the Hawks to help do what they could to limit Tatum. When both Brown and Tatum go off it’s difficult for the Hawks to win — and we saw that in Game 4 in Atlanta where they scored the final 16 points to take Game 4. When they outshoot the Celtics from three and one of those two have a difficult game there’s a chance for the Hawks and that’ll have to be part of the recipe again in Game 5.
The on-court success has to be the Hawks’ motivation and not the noise outside.
“If our motivation, if we find things externally to be our source of motivation I don’t think we can rely on that,” said Snyder. “We’ve just got to play and compete. We hung in there. I’m proud of our competitiveness and a mental toughness as much as anything.”
Game 6 now shifts back to Atlanta, and we’re now at a point where the Hawks have pushed the Celtics beyond what many expected them to. With a Game 6 to come on the Hawks’ home floor, you certainly can’t rule out the possibility of a Game 7 on the road.
It will be an enthralling encounter, with the Hawks still facing elimination — Game 5’s victory does not change that fact and with it the stakes could not be more set.
Game 6 takes place on Thursday night at State Farm Arena. It promises to be an absolute blast.
Until next time...