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Hawks crush banged-up Celtics 89-72 and soar to 2-0 series lead

Boston was flat and disheartened throughout the first quarter, didn't reach double-figure points until the second quarter, and the Hawks were able to shoot sporadically and stroll to a dominant win over a Celtics team that has caught no breaks to begin their highly anticipated playoff run. Is it over before it begins?

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

How's this for backs against the wall? Down 0-1 after losing a wild 4th quarter in which they lost Avery Bradley to a hamstring injury for the series, Kelly Olynyk was out with a shoulder injury, Marcus Smart (1-11, 3 points) was battling a finger injury, and Jae Crowder (1-9, 7 rebounds) described himself as being about 70% with his ankle injury.

Smart said the team can't pout about being banged up, they just need players to step up. But the situation the Celtics face at this point in the season (when we should have been getting ready to celebrate a long playoff run) certainly has the fans pouting.

That pouting was strong early, and it was about as nightmarish a start as the Cs could've imagined. Boston opened with a forced turnover, but the Hawks were ready to change their perimeter woes. Jeff Teague (5-9, 13 pts, 6 assists) started the Atlanta attack with a deep three, Kent Bazemore (2-14, 9 reb) picked off a Crowder pass, Al Horford (6-11, 17 pts, 5 reb, 5 blocks) responded to a Jared Sullinger (2-5, 4 pts, 4 reb) jumper with a dunk, then disaster struck.

Smart got hit with a knee to the ribs. He went down and was taken right out of the game, exactly what the Celts didn't need. Next play R.J. Hunter (0-3 FG), in for Smart, got caught sleeping, and Kyle Korver (6-9, 17 pts, 7 reb) drilled a corner three. Three minutes later Smart was back, but the Celts weren't, down 13-2.

Boston's answer would be small ball, but they couldn't find any baskets, starting 1-10 and trailing 21-3 six minutes in. The focus was so poor offensively that Teague was almost able to steal an in-bounds pass out of a Cs timeout.

The Celtics had the luxury of Atlanta misses throughout Game 1 but not this time. Korver was drilling shots, Teague was making plays without Bradley on him, and they were on the attack against a team they knew they could expose.

It took the Cs over eight minutes to find their second basket, and by that time Boston was already handing minutes to Tyler Zeller (2-7, 5 reb) and Terry Rozier (4-7, 10 pts, 4 reb). Needing a break ten minutes in, they didn't get one, as Smart walked to the locker room during an Atlanta timeout grabbing his midsection once again.

Nine straight misses for the Hawks opened an opportunity for Boston, but the Cs couldn't find a good shot, and when they did they couldn't convert. Hunter found Evan Turner (5-12, 12 pts, 5 reb, 3 ast) with a nifty pass off a pump fake, and he hesitated and missed. Sullinger missed a wide open lay-up next possession. It was that kind of quarter, and it ended with Atlanta up 24-7, the lowest point total in a quarter in Celtics playoff history. They shot 3-23 and gave up six three-pointers.

Fortunes didn't improve into the second quarter. Rozier got hit with a technical for firing a ball at Dennis Schroder (3-6, 8 pts) and Atlanta responded to a quick bucket to make it 29-9 fourteen minutes into the game. It took the Celtics a full fourteen minutes to reach double figures, and Horford hit a three seconds later.

But Boston's aggressiveness picked up quickly, and they found their first scoring burst of the night, pulling within 16 on four straight buckets sparked by Turner. An 11-2 run emerged, and after Amir Johnson (6-11, 14 pts, 8 reb) returned with a bucket the Cs were within 12 after trailing by 21.

Johnson made it a 10-point game with a hook shot, capping off a 15-4 run, but even as Atlanta missed and turned the ball over their strength remained in their passing. A strong series of passes set up another open three for Korver, and Boston's momentum was halted.

The Celtics' party really came hit a brick wall once Horford entered, and he forced Johnson's first miss after four straight makes. Atlanta began to reestablish themselves at the end of a rough quarter for them, up 43-28 after forcing seven straight Celts misses.

Over the final 4:49 the Hawks defense got back to its old ways, forcing 0-8 shooting from the Celts and four turnovers. But they only found four points over that span, keeping Boston within striking distance down 43-28 at the half.

Isaiah Thomas (4-15, 16 pts) and Crowder were a combined 2-15. I.T. was going to need more than new shoes to pull this off.

Energy would be key. Boston came out firing behind a Johnson roll and dunk followed by a Turner reverse lay-in as the stops began piling up thanks to bad Hawks misses once again. Four minutes in the Celts were working hard down 13, but the continued fixation by Atlanta to key in on Thomas hurt with Paul Millsap (1-12, 7 reb) eyeing his every drive.

Thomas continued to struggle, but Johnson's energy continued to be a force as Boston stuck within 13. However, the offense remained dead, especially when Brad Stevens opted to rest Turner and roll with Thomas through the first half of the third quarter.

The Celtics went almost six minutes without a bucket before Thomas scored through Mike Scott (3-9, 6 pts, 6 reb) on a cut and hit the free throw. It got so bad that the team couldn't even get a shot up in 24 seconds on a possession when nobody could handle passes. But again, over that stretch Atlanta only put two points on the board, leaving the door open.

Boston pulled within 11 on a Rozier three following a series of great passes. Tim Hardaway (3 pts) followed up with a response bucket, but the Celts were far from dead. For every Celts stale run of offense, like the one they ran into once again over the final three minutes, the Hawks had one of their own. The Celtics were able to fight to within 12, but Smart got hit on a three-point attempt, and Atlanta rushed back to find a Horford three before the buzzer. After three quarters, they led 61-46.

The fourth quarter started slowly with a pair of Atlanta buckets and a Smart three, but a scare came with 10:30 left as Horford struggled to the sideline with a potential knee injury. He took off to the locker room, stretched it out quickly, then turned around and jogged back to the bench.

Fortunately for the Hawks, their shooting woes disappeared behind the substitution of Thabo Sefolosha (4-5, 12 pts, 6 reb), who scored three buckets in a row in a crucial run to put them up 19. At the end of it, Horford returned to the court and Atlanta finally established the full control they were looking for. Five straight free throws solidified that dominance, putting them up 76-53.

Then Thomas woke up, hitting a pair of free throws, drilling a three, and converting an and-one as the Celts suddenly found themselves within 16 again with a slight display of energy. Horford came back to bite the momentum though, with a strong inside bucket and a three-pointer. Like that, the hopes of a miracle were gone thanks once again to Atlanta's center.

Isaiah was taken out and the rookies took over, but the fight continued behind a few Rozier buckets. Another scare came for the Hawks as Schroeder fell hard and awkwardly on his foot. He was taken to the locker room and the final minute ran out with all five of Boston's D-League players standing on the court.

The Hawks won in dominant fashion 89-72, and now the Celtics come home down 0-2, broken physically, and hurt emotionally. Friday is the last chance to save the playoff run we have all awaited since November, one that's dying before our eyes before it even began.

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