Ten observations from Celtics 110, Hawks 99 . . .
1. Once again the Hawks gave a competitive effort against the Celtics that wasn’t enough. The Hawks led 86-85 with 7:31 to go but the Celtics cranked up their defensive intensity and the Hawks struggled to find good shots over the next several possessions. “I think we’ve got a chance to win games,” Hawks guard Dennis Schroder said. “We’ve just got to close it out better. We are almost there.”
2. The Hawks blitzed Kyrie Irving at winning time. That gave Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris space to operate and they took advantage. And then Irving delivered a dagger corner three with 1:07 to go to put the Celtics up 106-97. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer: “They were inside of us some and then finding three-point shooters or finding shots at the rim. They had a little bit of everything going.”
3. The Hawks were sharp from the start for the second straight game. They made six of their first eight field-goal attempts against the Celtics while building an 18-10 lead, after they made their first eight shots vs. Sacramento. The Hawks earned big dividends on drives to the basket in the first quarter, with Kent Bazemore as the main instigator: 11 points on three shots, 4-for-4 on free throws in 10 minutes.
Budenholzer: “The way we started, the pace that we were playing with, the energy, that can kind of counter some of their physicality. When it slows down a little bit and get into more halfcourt, more of a ‘mud and slug,’ that’s a little more to their advantage.”
4. The Hawks went on a 22-5 run to lead 31-15 before the bench unit got the Celtics back in it. Then the Celtics scored 24 points in the opening six-plus minutes of the second half. Irving gave them fits with his driving and passing, and rookie Jayson Tatum took advantage of his length and sharp ball-handling to get chances at the rim. Tatum also ran past all five Hawks for an uncontested fast-break dunk. Budenholzer: “I thought our transition D in the third quarter was really poor. Jayson Tatum going the length of the floor and just dunking on us, that’s unacceptable.”
5. The Hawks countered with the usual energy and activity around the basket from rookie John Collins. In six third-quarter minutes he was 3-for-4 shooting with five rebounds. The Celtics couldn’t get much in the paint with Collins bouncing around in there. Collins had 14 points and seven rebounds in 13 minutes after halftime. Budenholzer: “His activity, his athleticism is something that just continues to be a bright spot. Him learning to play and function in an NBA game. These are high-level games, players, so he’s learning every second he’s on the court.”
6. The Celtics are the best defensive team in the league by a wide margin over No. 2 Oklahoma City. You knew they eventually would keep the Hawks out of the lane and that Atlanta would cool off the outside. Both happened in the second quarter, when the Hawks were 1 for 6 on three-pointers. Meanwhile, Morris wore out whichever Hawks defender checked him, with Babbitt as a frequent victim.
7. The Hawks’ aggressiveness off the dribble forced Boston’s bigs to help a lot. That led to early foul trouble for Al Horrford and Aron Bayes. Celtics coach Brad Stevens let game official Justin Van Duyne know that he did not like this development: “Our bigs are allowed to play, too! They’ve got five fouls between them!”
8. Dennis Schroder struck the right balance of scoring and play-making at the start. He had his floater working and looked for his teammates at the three-point line and on rolls to the basket. But it’s hard for Schroder to get his usual chances at the basket against a physical defensive team like the Celtics.
9. Ersan Ilyasova didn’t play at all after he logged 18 minutes against Sacramento following a seven-game absence. Ilyasova didn’t check in even when rookie Tyler Cavanaugh struggled in the third quarter. Ilyasova began the season as the starter but apparently he’s no longer in the rotation. Budenhozler: “Just went with Cavanaugh and we’ll continue to figure out what gives us our best chance.”
10. DeAndre’ Bembry played for the first time since suffering a fractured wrist in the season opener. He checked in after Prince earned his second foul in the first quarter, checked out about a minute later and never returned. Babbitt was in the starting lineup after back spasms knocked him out of the Kings game. Mike Muscala (ankle) was available to play after missing four straight games. But he said he would only play if needed, and Budenholzer never called on him.
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