Trae Young trounced the Celtics’ defense two days after 2020 began, pouring 37 on the C’s perimeter and only Daniel Theis could spoil him from reaching 40. His game-sealing block on a switch at the three-point line cut Young off in ways Marcus Smart and Boston’s back court couldn’t all night.
That game highlighted Theis’ value the preferred way, through his presence. Midway through the third quarter, after a day of front court trade rumors, Theis fell and rolled his ankle before exiting the game. He could’ve returned, but didn’t as Grant Williams emerged late with 5-for-8 shooting, six rebounds and an assist.
His put-back, dish to Hayward in the lane and pull-up jumper helped Hayward seal the game from the point. Tatum added 10-for-20 shooting with 28 points through Atlanta’s shoddy perimeter defense.
Boston burst out of halftime with Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown hitting six consecutive jumpers before Tatum missed the seventh. Collectively, they opened 7-for-8 with 19 points in 4:34 before Atlanta called timeout, scoring with them momentarily before falling to 4-for-10.
The Celtics held a double-digit lead halfway through the second half before a flurry of turnovers from Brown, Brad Wanamaker and Javonte Green allowed an Atlanta comeback. Jeff Teague, Damian Jones and Kevin Huerter scored off them to pull within 103-101. The surge forced Gordon Hayward to the point, where he worked into the paint, hit two jumpers then ran a pick-and-roll through Enes Kanter who found Jayson Tatum for the pivotal three.
Williams and Brown sealed a 123-115 win with consecutive makes after, thwarting consecutive late threes by Huerter in a night where Atlanta shot 50% and 41% from three.
Smart and Kemba Walker missed this matchup, with Kanter returning from injury with a trio of makes in his first four tries inside. Wanamaker recorded three steals and nine points leading the transition attack in the second quarter, where Boston separated itself with bench play.
Young responded to that run with back-to-back kick-out threes to Huerter, Atlanta’s sharpshooter who finished 5-for-10 outside in the contest. Boston trailed 45-38, before Wanamaker drilled consecutive threes. Tatum capped the run with a drive through Huerter to the rim, Lloyd Pierce thought he pushed off, and the refs affirmed their call by handing Tatum a technical free throw and 9-0 run.
Atlanta got its calls late in the quarter, embodying a game of massive swings. Dane Goodwin and Young reached the line to split four free throws, before Young drilled all three after Waters fouled him on the three-point line. Collins closed the half with a corner three, finish at the rim rolling off Young, then a heave high above the arc at the buzzer to send the Hawks to the locker room ahead 62-60.
Boston and Atlanta traded buckets at a furious pace midway through the third: Brown, Collins, Teague, then a Theis three-pointer before he fell defending a Young drive and turned his right ankle. Boston could’ve used him late, but opted for Williams against Atlanta’s small lineups.
Tremont Waters and Carsen Edwards both scored, up from Maine with Boston reeling at guard. Waters stripped Young at half court and followed with a bucket. Then Jeff Teague recorded his own steal on Waters at half court. He scored 18 in his return to torturing Boston’s defense in Georgia after the Timberwolves dealt him back there earlier this month.
Boston led 97-86 early in the fourth. Young spun past Waters in the lane and finished through a foul to get within 99-91. As Atlanta charged, Williams flushed back a two-handed put-back jam midway through the quarter that incited Stevens after the team didn’t get back on Teague driving full-court to the rim next possession.
Teague, Huerter and Jones scored to make it 103-101, when Hayward hit a pull-up jumper and turnaround fadeaway in the post. After two buckets for Williams in the lane, Boston pulled away with its seventh victory in the past eight games, highlight by a Williams up-and-under.
They’ll meet again Friday at TD Garden for their third and final meeting this year.