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Boston Celtics fend off late surge, beat Atlanta Hawks 121-109

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The Hawks looked unstoppable in the fourth, but it wasn’t enough to surmount the Celtics’ lead.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Two days after suffering a shorthanded loss to the Atlanta Hawks on the second night of a back-to-back, the Boston Celtics scored some revenge. Led by a season-best performance from Kemba Walker (28 points, 6 assists, 3 steals) and strong outings from Jayson Tatum (25 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) and Tristan Thompson (17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists), the Celtics fended off a late charge from Trae Young (31 points, 11 assists) and Clint Capela (24 points, 15 rebounds, 4 blocks) and scored a comfortable 121-109 win.

Walker provided the energy for the Celtics in the opening quarter. He looked sharp on both ends of the court, picking up a pair of quick layups in transition, dishing a par of very nice assists and providing some surprisingly chippy defense, including a rare blocked shot (just his third of the season). With both him and Theis back in the lineup, the Celtics looked to be in a comfort zone, stifling Atlanta on the defensive end and piling up points in transition on the other end. They opened the game by connecting on eight of their first 10 shots.

The Celtics’ offense looked like a walking highlight reel as the quarter marched on. Seemingly every bucket at the rim came from some implausible angle or otherwise spectacular finish. Their defense continued to excel, as well, holding the Hawks to just 31% shooting from the field for the quarter. They entered the second quarter leading Atlanta by 11, 33-22.

The inevitable cold spell came as the second quarter began, as the Celtics went the first 3:30 of the frame without scoring a point. Fortunately, the Hawks’ scuffling offense failed to capitalize. They continued to brick shots, and only managed to pull within seven points of Boston before the Celtics’ offense righted the ship and quickly restored the lead to double-digits.

While Walker continued to helm the Celtics’ offense in the second quarter pushing his scoring total to 20 for the first half. However, the star of the frame may well have been Robert Williams. The third-year center was simply too much for Atlanta’s frontcourt to handle around the rim. He finished with his trademark hyper-efficiency, shooting a perfect 6-of-8 from the field on the evening, good for 12 points, and stuffed the stat sheet with four blocks and a pair of steals. The Celtics capped off one of their best first halves of the season, leading the Hawks by a whopping 25 points, 66-41.

The third quarter started off sloppily. Both the Celtics and Hawks had suffered through some turnover issues throughout the evening, and those issues were at their worst in the early minutes of the half, trading sloppy turnovers in the opening minutes. For the night, the two teams coughed the ball up 31 times combined. As in the second quarter, though, the Hawks struggled to cut into Boston’s lead despite the offensive lull, and a breakaway dunk for Thompson kept the Celtics ahead by 21 at the midway point of the quarter.

The game started to teeter on the verge of getting out of hand as the clock ticked under five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Jaylen Brown, who otherwise had a fairly quiet evening with 17 points, connected from three-point range on three straight possessions, pushing Boston’s lead all the way to 27 points. The Celtics held that lead through the end of the quarter, and entered the final frame ahead 98-73.

Alarm bells began to ring early in the final quarter, as the Hawks tore out an 11-0 run as part of a rally that cut into the Celtics’ lead precipitously fast, bolstered in part by an Atlanta zone defense that threw a wrench in the Boston’s offense. Having led by 25 entering the quarter, Boston led by just 14 with 10 minutes remaining in regulation, then 13 with just under eight.

A few traded baskets later, the Hawks cut the lead to single digits after a Tatum travel led to a massive three-pointer for Young on the other end, leaving the Celtics ahead just 108-99 with less than five minutes to play and prompting a Brad Stevens timeout. Returning to play, the Celtics finally restored order, pushing the lead back to 12 on a trio of crucial buckets from Daniel Theis. The Hawks didn’t roll over, but after Walker drilled a dagger three-pointer with fewer than three minutes remaining in regulation, the lead became too much to surmount.

Next up, the Celtics travel to New Orleans for a matchup against Zion Williamson and the Pelicans, this Sunday at 1:30 PM EST on ABC,