After a strong showing in Miami in the Play-In, the Hawks entered Saturday’s Game 1 in Boston hoping to carry momentum forward and start fresh after a rather disappointing regular season. Unfortunately for Atlanta, they were quickly reminded why the Celtics were the 2-seed and the reigning East champs, as Boston jumped all over the Hawks, setting a franchise playoff record with 74 first-half points to take a 30-point lead into the break.
Unsurprisingly, it was Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown leading the way for Boston, as they sliced up the Hawks defense with an all-out assault on the rim, headlined by a 45-point second quarter outburst in which they were simply unstoppable.
On the other end, the Celtics defense suffocated the Hawks, with Robert Williams and company cutting off the rim and forcing Atlanta into a steady diet of contested jumpers, which they struggled to hit — Atlanta was 0-of-9 from three in the first quarter. When they did dare attack the rim, they were met with hefty resistance, headlined by this sensational block from Williams.
Things did get interesting in the early fourth quarter, as the Hawks rattled off an extended 32-12 run to cut a 32-point deficit all the way down to 12 with just over nine minutes to play. While they were still cold from three, they picked up their defensive intensity and started getting to the rim to steadily chip away as the Celtics seemed to fall asleep after taking such a big lead.
Boston would re-establish order and push the lead back out, and the Hawks wouldn’t get any closer than that 12-point deficit again. Still, the fourth quarter was certainly more competitive and the Hawks were able to at least see Dejounte Murray (24 points on 10-of-25 shooting, eight rebounds, and six assists) get going some alongside Bogdan Bogdanovic, with all nine of his points in the final frame. While Boston was never able to fully re-establish their offensive dominance, the defense picked back up and carried them to the finish line.
While it wasn’t a full-on meltdown by the Celtics, their sloppiness in the second half was a bit concerning, as the offense ground to a halt and turnovers became an issue. For a team that had its issues giving back large leads in the regular season, seeing those same problems pop up in the playoff opener wasn’t exactly ideal. Still, they were never in real danger of losing the game, and while they would’ve preferred to cruise to a 20-plus point win while resting their stars, they still put forth a mostly impressive display in what became a 112-99 win.
Joe Mazzulla will still have some things to clean up with his squad, which is maybe preferred for a coach as they always want things to build on and keep players engaged, and they showed on both ends how dominant they can be in this series when they play with pace and stay engaged. Brown (29 points, 12 rebounds) and Tatum (25 points, 11 rebounds) were terrific when they weren’t trying to run out the clock too early, and Derrick White continues to impress with 24 points and seven assists, while providing terrific defense on Young and the Hawks guards.
For Atlanta, they’ll likely burn the first half tape and try to focus on the positives of the final 20 minutes of action, where they looked like a competitive basketball team again. Trae Young will have to be much better going forward, as he struggled mightily with the size and length of the Celtics, scoring just 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting, with eight assists and five turnovers. Murray finding a little rhythm and Bogdanovic giving them something from beyond the arc was at least a start, but they are going to have to improve dramatically on the offensive end in terms of efficiency to turn things around in this series. As a team, they shot 5-of-29 from three on the afternoon, with Murray and Young going a combined 1-for-11. That’s not a recipe for success and they’ll hope the shooting variance shifts more in their favor going forward.