Boston, Massachusetts — Playing with only eleven healthy players, the Boston Celtics (38-15) surged past the Atlanta Hawks (15-37) by a score of 119-110. Despite the final score only showing a single-digit difference, the final result was never in doubt after the Celtics stepped on the gas in the third quarter.
Kyrie Irving (quad), Marcus Smart (hand), Marcus Morris (hip), and Shane Larkin (knee) were all inactive for the tonight. Newcomer Greg Monroe remains technically unsigned. He will officially join the Celtics once he clears the waivers process, and could be activated by Sunday. Boston decided not to re-sign G-League three-point specialist Jarell Eddie after his 10-day contract expired.
The Celtics were certainly short-handed, but it did not matter. Simply put, Boston produced one of their best offensive performances of the season.
The story of this week has been Terry Rozier. On Wednesday, T-Rozay became the first player in NBA history to record a triple-double in his first career start, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Rozier was in the starting lineup again tonight, and packed the box score with a career-high 31 points. He added 2 dimes and 7 boards over 36 minutes. His confidence level has skyrocketed over the past few games, and the recent performances may cast some doubt toward the idea that the Celtics need to add another dribble-penetrator before the trade deadline.
Rozier now has 17 rebounds in his past two games. On a per-36 minute basis, only Russell Westbrook, Dejounte Murray, and Lonzo Ball have averaged more boards amongst point guards this season.
After Marcus Smart decided to to fight a picture frame last week, my CelticsBlog colleague Andrew Doxy called this “the most important two weeks of Rozier’s career”. Scary Terry is making incredible usefulness of his minutes, and wondering whether the Louisville alum is starting to chip into some of Smart’s minutes is not an unfair debate.
Al Horford posted a well-rounded 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists. The Celtics made a conscious effort to feed him the ball on the low block coming out of halftime. He exploited Ersan Ilyasova, who provides beneficial shooting for the Hawks, but proved again to be a total liability in post defense.
The Jay-team also shared in tonight’s offensive parade. Jayson Tatum poured in a career-high 27 points and added 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals. The rookie did not sink a 3-pointer on the night, but was able to carve up the Atlanta defense inside the paint. Jaylen Brown quietly contributed 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting. The rookie-sophomore duo also hooked up for this sweet fast break play in the first half:
Jaylen grabs the rebound and finds Tatum on the break for the easy two! pic.twitter.com/vMsNGVGUck— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 3, 2018
After taking a two-point deficit into halftime, the Celtics pulled away from the Hawks after the break, outscoring Atlanta 41 to 20 in the third quarter. Boston shot 65 percent in that frame, and went 5-for-5 from beyond the arc. Defensively, they held the Hawks to 6-of-22 shooting, which helped to put the game out of reach. Boston had a bottom-10 net rating in third quarters last month, so seeing them make the proper halftime adjusts was a pleasant sight tonight.
The Hawks were led offensively by 3-and-D specialist Taurean Prince, who finished with 31 points and 8 rebounds in just 30 game minutes. He was able to drain five three pointers, but was a team-low -17 on the night.
The Celtics could not contain Dennis Schroder in the first half. The 5th year guard had 17 points on 8-of-13 before the break. Historically, Boston has had their issues trying to suppress Schroder’s unique quickness, and he was able to get into the paint with ease. The Celts tightened up their perimeter defense in the second half, and Schroder only finished with 25 points on 10-of-20 from the field.
The sharpshooting duo of Ilysova and Kent Bazemore, who have been recent subjects of endless trade rumors, combined for 18 points. Marco Belinelli is also a candidate to be moved before the deadline, but was effective off of the Atlanta bench. The crafty veteran knocked in an efficient 15 points, and could become a vital floor spacer if he joins a contender. With the Hawks focused primarily on lottery ping pong balls rather than wins, Atlanta’s rotation could look vastly different by this time next week.
After a hard West Coast road trip, the Celtics are enjoying some quality home cooking. The C’s have now strung together two consecutive impressive performances without Kyrie Irving. After posting the 29th ranked scoring efficiency in the NBA in January, the Celtics appear to be ridded themselves of their offensive demons. And with Greg Monroe on the way, the Celtics are playing with a distinct pep in their step.
Next, the Celtics will have a pre-Superbowl matinee matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.