At Atlanta 1/19: Progress

FINAL: Boston: 113 Atlanta: 105

So over this season we’ve been saying how the Celtics look fragile, they crumble easily, and that they needed some toughness. Marcus Smart I guess heard that and while a few tough rebounds was all we really were asking for, he went a different avenue to light a fire. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the whole ordeal that led to his ejection, a possible fine, and maybe even a suspension depending on how the league offices feel about it.

I have absolutely no idea how we got from a couple of words lining up for a jump ball, to the makings of a riot in less than a minute, but we for sure got there. Bembry had to have said something out of bounds to set Smart off like this. When Smart charges at him the call by Mike Gorman is simple, but it’s fantastic. “Woah” and then, “wooooaaaahhhh” as Smart comes out of the woodwork throwing flying fists into the air. Thank god somebody got a hold of him before he got there or he could be staring at a hefty suspension. Nonetheless, not the smartest thing to do by Smart but I think it got the Celtics going.

Other than the WWE, there was a lot that went on in this game as the Hawks really gave the Celtics a good fight. Although Trae Young was hot and cold (6-17 from the field and 2-9 from three), Kevin Huerter picked up the slack with that smooth jumper of his. He was awesome last night posting 18/4/7 on 7-18 from the floor, 4-10 from deep, and had 3 steals. The Hawks are essentially trying to build Warriors-Lite and he’s shown some promise as Fake-Klay in their system. He’s only 20 years old and has posted a 39.2% mark from downtown which leads all rookies.

Alex Len (15/6) and John Collins (15/11) both gave the Celtics problems down low as they were really active on the glass and were aggressive when in the lane.

It was basically a tale of two halves for the Celtics as they gave up 67 first half points to the Hawks (25-48 from the floor and 9-24 from deep) and then in the second half they held them to 38 points (15-45 and 3-18 from deep). This included a fourth quarter where the Celtics outscored them 30-16 after entering the frame trailing by 6. The defense was shaky in the first half but I also think the Hawks were hitting a lot of tough shots. The inside/out aspect of their offense while leaning on Len/Collins in the lane, coupled with the shooting touch early were what gave the Celtics troubles. It was nice to the see them adjust on the fly like that half to half as the were able to really flip the game around in the second half.

Spearheading this effort was once again Kyrie Irving. 32 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists at an 11-19 clip and 5-8 from downtown. Most of it came in the first half and while the Hawks seemed to be hitting everything, Irving was there to counter it.

Then in the fourth to basically ice it he swerved through the lane and threw in this ridiculous lefty floater after almost falling down on the baseline.

Since lighting the Celtics up after their loss in Orlando, Kyrie has been on a tear averaging 32.3/5/11.3 on 61/60/81.3 shooting splits in his last 3 games. The 61% and 60% clips from the field and three are what stand out to me. He has been locked all the way in and while he’s been the hottest player on the planet shooting wise, he’s still doled out some absurd assist numbers. His ability to contort to whatever player the team needs at a given moment has been so impressive. When he’s on, he obviously is going to take shots, but he doesn’t let that get in the way of setting up his teammates. It’s been a great blend lately and it’ll be fun to see if he can keep this rabid pace up as time goes on.

Tatum snapped out of his funk with 19/5/2 on 7-13 shooting as he seemed to be letting the game come to him more. A lot of times with him I see him force up mid-range jumpers and take over the offense, while last night he let the game come to him and made the right decisions when he got the ball. I don’t love how much he goes to his mid-range game but if it’s in the flow of the offense, I don’t mind it and think it’s a good thing. When the Celtics have teams on their heels it’s from ball movement and quick decisions. His ability to make up his mind on the fly and make the right decision is an important part of his development moving forward. Horford had a bit of down night shooting the ball (4-11) but he was able to contribute 9 boards and made his presence felt on the glass sending back 2 shots.

Two guys who have been berated constantly this season (one more deserving than the other) had huge nights off of the bench. Jaylen Brown had 14/4/2 with three steals and while he was only 3-10 from the field, he hit the ones that mattered. He gave the Celtics their first lead since being up 3-2 in the fourth at 95-93 with this three ball.

Terry Rozier honestly was the unsung hero of this game in my opinion. He only was 4-12 for 9 points, but his 11 rebounds and 3 steals could not have been any more important in this one. Big plays like this down the stretch are so important to a team and Terry was able to make it happen on multiple occasions.

He’s always had the ability to rebound at a high level for a guard (he literally looks like he’s on a pogo stick when he jumps) and tonight he contributed when the Celtics needed him most. I wish Terry would just have more games like this where it isn’t all predicated on his offensive output. It’s been noted how worried he is about getting, his but he’s such a better player when he has games like tonight. The Celtics needed him, especially with the Smart ejection, and he delivered. Being able to diversify what he can do for this team was what made him such a hot commodity in the first place and seeing him do that last night was promising. We’ll see if Smart receives a suspension, but if he does, it gives Terry another opportunity to show his worth and help this team win in a bigger role.

While they did get the win, it was a lot closer than we would’ve liked and I just look at their assist numbers to explain how it got that close. The Hawks held the edge in assists by quite a wide margin at 28-19 and their offense for most of the game looked to be clicking better than the Celtics. It’s no secret at this point how important ball movement is for them on a nightly basis and ultimately, they got the win because they are a far superior team in regards to talent than Atlanta.

I’m not going to continue harping on a game against the Hawks but for the Celtics, this is an important win. They notably play poorly against bad teams and after a couple of wins, it was a positive that they came out on the second night of a back to back, on the road, and were able to play well enough to get the W. We pick things back up tomorrow night as the Celtics return home for a date with the Miami Heat, tip-off at 6:00 PM ET.

-Chuck

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