The Atlanta Hawks’ 2022-23 season came to a close as the Boston Celtics secured Game 6 at State Farm Arena with a 128-120 victory on Thursday night to win the series 4-2.
Trae Young led the Hawks with 30 points and 10 assists, with De’Andre Hunter adding 20 points. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 32 points with fellow All-Star Jayson Tatum adding 30 points.
You can’t say the Atlanta Hawks went down without a fight.
Despite falling to a double-digit deficit very early in this game the Hawks responded well in a back-and-forth game that saw 22 lead changes and 15 game ties. The second half in particular was very much a back-and-forth affair, each team trading baskets — it was a fantastic encounter between the two sides.
Speaking to TNT before the fourth quarter, Hawks head coach Quin Snyder said that there would be runs. He was right, and the Hawks were the first to strike as they took a three point lead after coming off a number of defensive stops and blocks — with John Collins and Onyeka Okongwu turning up the heat on defense — but unfortunately for Snyder it was the Celtics who held the decisive run in their deck: an 11-0 run to break away, as part of an overall 14-3 run that saw the Celtics establish a strong lead with little opportunity for the Hawks to respond to and overhaul.
Let’s take a look at that decisive run.
It actually begins with the Hawks missing an opportunity to push their lead further, with Trae Young missing a three-pointer here on the switch with Al Horford:
This point will be true of a number of Atlanta shots in this run: this wasn’t the worst shot in the world. Sure, by this point Young had certainly cooled off from his first half but in the context of I still think this is fine. It was a decent look from three that didn’t go down.
The Hawks would then get another opportunity after a missed three from Marcus Smart, this time an open three is generated for De’Andre Hunter when the double shifts to Dejounte Murray:
I mean, what can you say about this one: that’s just tough luck. It’s an open three for Hunter, who was great in the second half, scoring 16 of his 20 points in the second half and shot 4-of-6 from three in the second half alone. Just unfortunate.
You can only have so many chances to take before the Celtics punish you for it, and they tie the game with this three-pointer from Brown:
That’s a tough shot. A contested pull-up three over Murray, who had backed up a tad on Brown (for good reason, he’s killed the Hawks all series long going to the rim) but still gets a good contest up despite that. A great make from Brown.
The Hawks would get another decent look as Young turns the corner off the Clint Capela screen after the attempted denial from Brown, and Young can’t get his floater to go on the baseline:
Horford did well to make this a bit more difficult, you can see how Young’s body was twisting somewhat — perhaps a bit of contact that put Young off-balance slightly judging by his landing.
The Hawks come up with a stop after a block by Hunter and a missed three from Grant Williams but they cannot get back on the scoresheet as Murray’s drive is contested at the rim by Tatum and rolls off:
Unfortunate timing from Hunter cut across the lane like that and bring Tatum perfectly into play to rotate and contest this shot, because Murray had left Brown behind him on this drive.
The Celtics add to their run as Tatum finds Smart on the cut, who finds Horford in the corner for the three:
Young getting back-doored here was tough but as the extra attention on Tatum was deliberate, and while Capela is immediately onto rotation it obviously leaves Horford in the corner (and had something to say to a fan on his way back) and credit to him for hitting the shot.
After Horford ties up Collins for a jump-ball, Collins wins the tip and the Hawks get another decent look with Young for the snapshot three but cannot convert:
It’s a decent shot again, it just doesn’t go down for the Hawks.
Off the back of that, Tatum — as the clock winds down — hits a contested three to give the Celtics a six point lead:
Again, just a great make from the Celtics in the clutch, as they have done this series. It’s a contested three near the end of the shotclock made by a player who makes tough shots: you just have to live with that sadly.
Now trying to stop the bleeding after what is now a 9-0 run, Murray tries to get something on the board for the Hawks right away and his drive on Brown is strong but Brown recovers well to block the layup at the rim:
I thought this was initially quick from Murray but to be fair he did get the jump on Brown, who does well to block this.
The Celtics come again, and after the three from Horford is missed from the same corner he just made one Tatum comes skying high to beat the Hawks to the rebound and scores to put the Celtics up nine and cap a 11-0 run to flip this game on its head:
This was poor from De’Andre Hunter, who gets caught ball-watching and allows Tatum to waltz inside and collect the rebound: he just allows Tatum to go.
The Hawks attempt to respond, and Young’s drive inside is thwarted by Robert Williams III at the rim:
I think desperation had begun to creep in at this stage for the Hawks, now very much facing a rising tide.
Murray would respond with a big three after the inbounds pass but the Celtics immediately reply with a three of their own, this one coming from Smart after Brown draws the double and finds Smart:
The Hawks called for timeout at this juncture but the damage had been done. They had some good shots that didn’t go down and the Celtics made some tough shots too, and there’s your ball-game such were the margins in this one as it went back-and-forth.
Eight points would prove to be the final margin of the game, but not before the Hawks struggled to inbound the ball in the corner on four occasions, the Celtics defense each time thwarting their efforts before the final attempt from Hunter sails out of bounds.
A turnover from Young would end the game and the Celtics run the clock down to allow time to expire on this game, this series and the Atlanta Hawks’ season.
The Hawks have had some success when one of Brown or Tatum have struggled a bit in a game but last night this was not the case. 32 points on 12-of-25 from the field and 6-of-8 from three for Brown and 30 points on 11-of-20 from the field, 4-of-10 from three, 14 rebounds and seven assists from Tatum.
Quin Snyder described postgame on how the Hawks tried to limit the duo and what they gave up in the process of trying to do so.
“Firstly just give Boston credit on the way they played,” said a magnanimous Snyder postgame. “I thought our guys competed at the same level. It was clear at the beginning of the game that it was going to be a battle. A lot of plays made on both sides. Tatum and Brown were a handful, which we expect. We blitzed their pick-and-roll, we hit them from a quadrant, hit them on the dribble, hit them on the pass. When we didn’t they were able to make plays and when we did you’re susceptible to the three. We had some success in all those situation when they missed but they had some guys who hit some big shots as well. We were right there. It’s a tough game.”
“Good team makes plays,” added John Collins of the fourth quarter. “They did that down the stretch, it’s tough.”
The Celtics rediscovered their three-point shot in Game 6, shooting 18-of-42 from three. The Hawks were basically able to stay with them and shot a better percentage from three but on fewer makes: 15-of-35 from three for 43%.
The series is over but the Hawks basically keeping with the Celtics’ shooting this series was a massive victory for them and with it they gave themselves every chance to do something in this series.
Before the series, if you said the Hawks were going to outshoot the Celtics from three in a few of these games you would’ve laughed firstly seeing the season-series stats, and you would’ve taken that scenario with two hands. Given the Celtics’ success shooting the three in the regular season and given the Hawks’ struggles from three for the season I think Atlanta did a great job this series taking away some of what Boston does while also finding something themselves from three.
Brown and Tatum combined for 10 of those 18 Boston threes, the big ones coming from Brown you’d have to say given his success at the rim in this series and how he doesn’t usually settle from three like Tatum does. When Brown has that outside shot going as well as being able to get to the rim? That’s an extremely tough cover.
Dejounte Murray returned from his suspension but struggled to impact the game in the first half. He had a better go of it in the second half, where he scored all 14 of his points and finished on 5-of-13 shooting to go with 11 assists. Part of the reason Murray was able to get going a little more in the second half was because the Celtics focussed their attention more on Young in the second half and applied more trapping and more denial.
“Marcus was being way more aggressive and he wasn’t leaving me as much going to help,” said Young on the difference between his first and second half. “Early in the first half they were playing more team defense and when he was helping I was able to catch the ball with a live dribble and attack right away, create some space that way. In the second half he was more connected to me. I didn’t have the ball and he was still facing me and connected to me. They picked up the physicality, the refs were allowing them to play. It was in their favor. It’s tough.”
Young had initially picked up where he left off in Game 5 with a 25 point first half on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-8 from three. In the second half he scored just five points on 1-of-13 shooting.
“They started trapping him a little bit, so we got DJ back into the game to give us another ball-handler against the trap,” said Snyder when asked about Young’s second half. “He had a couple of his best looks late. I don’t think he was worn down or tired, I think occasionally guys miss a shot, in Trae’s case we’re used to seeing him hit big shots. He hit some big shots tonight too to get us in that position. We had a number of guys who had some really good looks late. Hunt stepped in and made a big one for us.”
It was unfortunate for Young. He was undeniably brilliant in the first half and he saw a number of good looks in the second half, floaters in particular. It was just a tough night for that floater to get away from him in the second half given what was on the line.
In the end — as has been the case in multiple fourth quarters in this series — the Celtics just made more plays when it counted down the stretch.
It would be easy to say a championship contending team like the Celtics ‘had another gear to shift to’ but when you look at the shots the Hawks missed versus the ones the Celtics made...these really were fine margins. It could’ve honestly gone either way. The Celtics’ contested shots — the ones from Brown and Tatum for example — could’ve easily missed. The Hawks’ could just as easily gone down, they were not bad shots.
The bottom line sadly is that the Celtics ultimately made their tough shots, the Hawks missed theirs. The Celtics’ supporting cast (the likes of Smart and Horford) stepped up and hit shots. The Hawks’ supporting cast had done all they could up to this point, especially with Young’s struggles in the second half and Murray also struggling to get going. What more can you ask of De’Andre Hunter who scored 16 in the second half? John Collins had another strong game, scoring 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting and hit three threes. The Hawks had done what they wanted from a coaching standpoint and got the ball out of the hands of Brown and Tatum for some of those possessions down the stretch — that’s what they wanted and they achieved it. The shots Tatum and Brown made down the stretch were pull-up contested shots and a rebound that, granted, Hunter should’ve done better on. You couldn’t ask much more from the Hawks defensively when it counted.
Ultimately the ball was in the hands of Young and Murray for most of the stretch run offensively and they couldn’t get their shots to fall. And that, sadly, was the difference.
“...Scoring against them the last three or four minutes of the game...you’re going to have to score,” said Snyder. “We got to the rim a couple of times and we didn’t score, we had that one possession — the side-out — where we only had one timeout left, we used another one around 1:30 to get control of the game so we have a chance late. You make a decision, you’ve got two players in Tatum and Brown that — even when you’re on them — they have the ability to rise up and they were both doing that. I thought Marcus Smart had a great pass to the corner. We had two guys help, being aggressive and trying to protect the rim and Al made a big shot. There were a number of plays like that.”
They may have lost the series but there’s little you can really fault the Atlanta Hawks in this series: they pushed what will now be considered the favorite in the Eastern Conference after the Milwaukee Bucks flamed out to six games, and for basically half the series the Hawks were there in the fourth quarter. They were close, they really were not that far away from the Celtics, a stark contrast to how they exited the playoffs a year ago after they were pummelled by the Miami Heat in five games.
There has been a lot of progress from the Hawks under Snyder and the growth he has wanted to see from his sides from when he took over in the regular season to now has not been stunted by this series, far from it.
“Our goal was to be the best version of ourselves at the end of the year,” said Snyder. “I thought that continued from the regular season through the playoffs. You saw a group that was connected. Different guys came up big in different games. This is a tough team to guard. For the most part I thought we executed and sometimes even when you execute these guys are good enough to make plays. What I told them was I was proud to have the opportunity to coach them. We talked about communicating, being competitive and being connected, and I thought we were all three of those things.”
The work will continue for Quin Snyder and the Atlanta Hawks next season. For now, however, they fall in a valiant six games against the Boston Celtics who advance to face the Philadelphia 76ers.
An interesting summer lies ahead for the Atlanta Hawks and their reshuffled front-office and, I’m sure, coaching staff. It’ll be interesting to see how different things look when next they take the floor from when they left it as the final buzzer sounded over their season after Game 6.
Until next time...