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Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart help Boston avoid disaster and 9 other takeaways from Celtics/Hawks

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Boston nearly blew a 25-point lead before Brown, Smart and Kyrie Irving saved the day

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

1. As usually happens with early tip times, the game had a pretty ragged start. This led to some up and down play and a very high-scoring first quarter. In part, this was due to some really bad transition defense on the part of both teams, but by the Celtics in particular. Boston cleaned this up in the middle quarters, as they built a 25-point lead, but then it went missing again late in the third quarter and early fourth. This has been a problem area for a large portion of the season. The game slows down in the playoffs, but allowing easy transition buckets could be an issue for the Celtics.

2. Outside of a brief period when the big lead evaporated, Boston’s ball movement was excellent all game long. They recorded 30 assists on 44 baskets. Both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart handed out nine assists, as the Celtics had the ball popping around the perimeter.

3. Speaking of Smart, he played a dominant game. His stat-line, as per usual, doesn’t tell the whole story. When the Celtics blew the lead, it was Smart and Jaylen Brown who willed them back to victory. This play came in the first half, and it’s a great example of Smart just wanting the ball more than everyone else and then finding Brown for the three-pointer:

4. Gordon Hayward was forced to leave the game with a strained neck after running into a screen by John Collins. Hayward’s absence was really felt in the second half, as the Boston reserves just couldn’t create enough offense to hold off a charge by the Hawks. It’s just the latest setback in what’s been an up and down season for Hayward. The Celtics really need him on the floor as a playmaker to be at their best.

5. Here’s another example of Smart making a great play, as he smothers Trae Young before Jayson Tatum heads the other way for the dunk. It was also great to see Tatum finish strong versus going to the layup. He’s been caught from behind a few times this season and is learning the lesson about finishing with power at the rim.

6. After a string of really rough games, Marcus Morris has bounced back with two good efforts. Against Atlanta, Morris scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He also blocked a couple of shots. Boston needs him to round back into form to be the team they hope to be.

7. Jaylen Brown has always been a superior athlete, one of the best the Celtics have ever had, as seen below. But what makes Brown special is how hard he’s played this season and how selflessly he’s taken to coming off the bench. It’s incredibly tough for a young player to take that sort of step back. After some initial bumps, Brown has adjusted. He’s been one of the Celtics best players since around Christmas, and he was a major reason the team won against the Hawks.

8. So…what the heck happened in the second half? Boston built as big a lead as 25 points and seemed like they were going to roll. It was such a big lead that Al Horford, who was suffering from some knee soreness, had basically shut it down for the day before being called back into action.

The Celtics went up 103-78 with 3:12 to play in the third quarter. Over the next 9:19 of game time, the Hawks completely erased that lead. In those nine plus minutes, Atlanta scored 34 points, while Boston scored just nine. It was a complete disaster.

Compounding matters was this lineup that Brad Stevens rolled out: Brown, Tatum, Terry Rozier, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis. That group simply can’t create enough offense, especially not as a unit. Brown, Tatum and Rozier are all better individual scorers than playmakers. Hayward was out and Horford was in process of trying to take the rest of the game off. Stevens was limited in options, but this was a mess of a grouping and it nearly cost Boston a win.

9. Fortunately, the Celtics were able to turn it around. And plays like this one, where the ball pinged all over the place before Brown hits a three, were part of the reason why:

10. And then, as only seemed appropriate given how the game had gone, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown finished the game with a steal, pass, layup highlight: