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Can’t get over the hump: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Hawks

Boston dropped back under .500 yet again with a loss in Atlanta

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

1. After a couple of weeks of really good defense, the Boston Celtics were bound to have a game where they slipped. That came on Wednesday night at the Atlanta Hawks. The first play of the game for Atlanta was a sign that things might not go well:

It’s fair to note that Boston was in a tough spot without Robert Williams. It was also the final game of a road trip. That usually comes with some rough patches. Despite their overall struggles, if you give Atlanta a path to score, they’ll take it. And take it they did on Wednesday night.

2. The rough defensive game was somewhat hard to swallow because Jayson Tatum showed up in a big way on offense. Tatum scored 34 points on 12-of-22 shooting and dished out five assists. Early on, Tatum had pretty good chemistry working with Grant Williams. Tatum sees John Collins has drifted a little too far from Williams in the corner here:

This is a good push by Tatum in transition here. He gets all the way to rim before kicking it to Williams in the corner again:

3. This is a good example of two things. First, this is what Marcus Smart is talking about when he says he wants the ball more to make things easy for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Second, when Tatum is feeling good, he’ll bury no-hesitation catch-and-shoots like this:

We’ve harped in this space that Tatum (and others!) is better when he makes quick, decisive plays. Tatum doesn’t haven’t a ton of time here, but look at how easily he gets to where he wants for this layup:

4. The above play allowed Boston to somewhat salvage a really messy end to the first half. Dennis Schroder hit a jumper with 4:41 to play in the half to cut the Hawks lead to 42-41. However, before a couple of plays from Grant Williams and Jayson Tatum in the final minute of the second quarter, the Hawks had built a 12-point lead.

When the Celtics are as limited as they are right now on offense, those little losses of focus that cause scoring droughts add up pretty quickly.

5. Grant Williams hit a couple of early three-pointers, as seen above. That got him going and he played one of his better games of the season, as Williams scored 18 points. When he’s playing with confidence, Williams’ game opens up. This is a nice drive against Danilo Gallinari, who really struggles with on-ball defense at this point in his career:

One of the plays to help keep Boston within striking distance at the half was this heads-up one from Williams. This is a tough pass from Al Horford and nearly goes out of bounds. While Kevin Huerter watched the ball and waited for a call, Williams did a great job of reestablishing himself inbounds. From there it’s a strong finish for the and-1:

6. One of the early criticisms of Ime Udoka was his lack of adjustments to his gameplan. Boston’s early goal was to double-team Trae Young on pick-and-rolls. Boston was very aggressive with this early on, and Young carved them up. Young had seven assists by halftime and the Hawks were rolling on offense.

After the break, Boston was using more of a show-and-recover defense against Young. It’s a “pick your poison” situation, because Young can go off as a scorer if you don’t force him to give up the ball. But Young’s shot wasn’t falling in the second half, and this adjustment allowed the Celtics to be more competitive defensively.

7. Josh Richardson has turned into a really solid contributor off the bench. He’s got just enough handle to create his own looks. This is a good read in transition by Richardson. He knows he can blow by Trae Young, and with Clint Capela out of the game, the path to the basket is free game:

Then, with Capela back in, Richardson makes a nice adjustment here. This set has become a mess, but Richardson rescues it and then hangs for the floater vs challenging Capela at the rim:

This pullup is a shot Richardson has been getting to and making more often too. And this bucket came at a point where Boston was in the danger zone of getting blown out:

8. A major contributing factor in the Celtics loss to the Hawks was missing open shots. Boston was a horrific 11-of-41 on three-pointers. Overall, the Celtics shot just 35.8% on open to wide-open shots in this one. Sometimes it really is a “make or miss league”.

9. The other big challenge for Boston was that they could never quite get over the hump. They repeatedly cut Atlanta’s lead down to a one or two-possession game, but couldn’t get that one more stop. When the Celtics did string together stops for the first time in the fourth quarter, the offense went missing. There were also a lack of quality offensive touches for Jayson Tatum. That’s inexcusable in a game where he had it going. Too many times his teammates abandoned a set or looked off Tatum when he had good positioning to get the ball.

All of this is frustrating, because Boston is back under .500 on the season. But this is a game where the absences of Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams were really felt. Brown helps clean up the offensive lapses, while Williams would have changed the defensive gameplan quite a bit. Get those two back, and the Celtics might start rolling.

10. Boston Celtics vs Los Angeles Lakers always means a little more than any other game. Even when the teams are scuffling along at .500 like this season, it’s still the best rivalry in the NBA. Their first meeting of this season comes in Boston on Friday.

That one is followed by two very winnable home games against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, before Boston welcomes the Brooklyn Nets to town. Four straight home games for the Celtics to get the record on the positive side before they hit the road for seven of their next eight games into mid-December.