BOSTON – Pace and space was on display at its finest in the second half, as the Celtics went on a series of blistering runs in the second half to beat the Atlanta Hawks 106-93. Isaiah Thomas’ 23 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds were crucial for a team whose shooting continued to cripple the pace-and-space system.
The Celtics were neck and neck with the Hawks until an Isaiah Thomas three-pointer in the middle of the third quarter sparked a 12-2 run. Kelly Olynyk came alive with 8 points in the quarter with two threes. He took over when he rattled home a sudden catch-and-shoot three and attacking the rim.
Isaiah Thomas kicked off the second half with a flurry of acreobatic drives and deep shots, finishing with 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting in the third. Amir Johnson capped off the quarter with a put back at the buzzer and when the dust settled, the Celtics held their first double-digit lead of the game and led 80-69.
But then Kyle Korver returned. The sharp shooter opened back up the attacking lanes for Atlanta and they chipped away at the Celtics’ lead. After a timeout with three minutes to go, the Hawks found Kent Bazemore in the corner with Kyle Korver up on the strong-side elbow. With Korver’s radiating presence keeping his man out on the perimeter, Bazemore exploded past two Boston defenders for a high-flying layup.
Stevens responded with a timeout and a tricky ATO play of his own. Jae Crowder got the ball on the top of the key and faked a pick-and-roll left with Amir Johnson. As Crowder drove like a charging Buffalo into a triple team, he quickly turned and found a trailing Amir Johnson. With all three post defenders in the air, Johnson slipped by for the layup.
The Celtics got the stop on the other end and came charging down on the break, where Evan Turner drew a three-point play. After a Jae Crowder three restored the 11-point lead from the beginning of the quarter, they never looked back. Crowder hit a step-in 18-footer to ice the game on the very next play. The 10-0 run saw the Celtics executing their pace-and-space system to perfection, as they eclipsed 100 field goal attempts for the evening.
The Hawks were without coach Mike Budenholzer due to a family matter and played like a team missing their coach. Their usually slick and efficient offense looked lost in the third quarter, saved by a few great shots from Dennis Schroder and some savvy off-ball moves by Thabo Sefolosha. With the Celtics’ starters getting into transition off of every defensive rebound, their higher pace eventually prevailed. The Celtics took a season-high 102 field goal attempts to the Hawks’ 75.
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