Sometimes, karma comes around real fast. Sometimes, the Basketball Gods throw metaphors in your face to foreshadow your down fall.
Dwight Howard was ejected at the 4:03 mark in the third quarter. It was obviously supposed to be the turning point in this game, where the Celtics finally were freed from their kryptonite with Superman back in the locker room.
In a twist so grand that Moonlight won Best Picture all over again, the Hawks beat the Celtics 36-21 from the Howard ejection to the 2:40 mark in the fourth quarter when coach Mike Budenholzer threw in his garbage-time unit.
Kent Bazemore won best supporting actor, but Tim Hardaway put in his Emma Stone performance. He belted high notes from deep and tapped dance his way to the rim with ease.
Avery Bradley returned and Jaylen Brown looks more and more like he’s going to be a playoff factor, but the Celtics clearly opened the wrong envelope Monday night.
“I thought [Bradley] looked great,” Stevens told CSNNE’s Abby Chin. “He and I both wanted him to keep playing, but the right thing’s the right thing. He’ll play more on Wednesday.”
Naturally, Bradley dropped the requisite “They punked us,” after the loss, signifying he truly has returned to the team.
IT is the end of an era. After a Celtics-record 43 consecutive 20-point games, Isaiah Thomas’s streak came to an end Monday in a 114-98 loss to the Hawks.
Thomas finishes with the seventh-longest 20-point streak in the last 17 years in the entire league, but he fell well short of Kevin Durant’s NBA-high 72 games.
The All-Star played it off after the game, telling reporters, “I’ll break it again.”
There is a troubling, although naturally expected, trend for Thomas against teams that are physical and athletic on defense. Atlanta does a great job of trapping Thomas out high, as well as getting early positioning in the lane to stop his shots. According to Stevens, they did everything right.
“They were really aggressive on him. They were really rough on him. They bodied him up. They were physical. They had a bunch of different guys on him at different times. They were really active on screens.”
But Stevens detailed what the Hawks do as well as anyone in the game, which has killed the Celtics for over a year.
“The biggest thing with this team that we’ve struggled with all the way back to last year, is at the rim. When (Dwight) Howard’s in the game with his size and (Paul) Millsap does a great job protecting the rim too. We missed a ton of layups. And their size and athleticism at the rim, their desire to get to the rim, they do a great job protecting it. That’s why we say in the playoffs, you have to get open shots. Like, if you don’t make open shots against these guys, you’re in trouble.”
The Celtics nearly had a momentum swing on the second night of a back-to-back when Dwight Howard shoved Al Horford and stoked a rarely visible fire under his predecessor in Atlanta. When Howard got ejected at the 4:03 mark in the third on a technicality for trying to chin-up the rim on a huge dunk, it looked like the stage was set for a Celtics comeback.
But Atlanta responded with even more fire while the Celtics stopped, dropped and rolled. Less than three minutes later, they doubled their lead and never looked back. Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to be a late-game spark plug, scoring 10 points in 13:22 after the Howard ejection. Rookie Taurean Prince had nine points and five rebounds (four offensive) as he played the 15:33 after the ejection.
The Hawks had eight points in transition during that run, forcing nine turnovers.
“Even when we had a layup, we didn’t feel like it was open,” coach Brad Stevens told CSNNE. “Then we felt rushed on our shots. I thought it looked a lot like some of the playoff games last year, to be candid.”
“I thought we were careless with the ball,” coach Brad Stevens said. “If there’s one thing I’d like us to get back to, it’s taking care of the ball at the level we were before the break.”
The game was not without some history, as Jonas Jerebko pulled off the greatest ankle breaking in NBA history. The Swedish Larry Bird charged down the floor in transition, dipped his head to shift from third gear to...well third gear still, and sent Malcolm Delaney to his leprechaun grave.