1. The Boston Celtics victory over the Atlanta Hawks was a tale of two halves. The Celtics lost Jaylen Brown less than three minutes into the game due to a sprained right ankle. After that, everything kind of went to pieces for the rest of the first half.
Boston’s defense wasn’t connected, resulting in multiple Atlanta baskets. And the offense was struggling to find their way.
In the second half, it was a different story. The Celtics put the clamps on the Hawks and the offense found a groove.
Considering they didn’t have Brown, and that they’ve struggled with Atlanta this season, this was one of Boston’s better wins this season.
2. To tell the story of the game, let’s look at a couple of the things that weren’t working early on. This isn’t how the Celtics play defense. Robert Williams looks like Enes Freedom here with how deep he’s dropping. And it’s against Trae Young no less:
It’s hard to describe how bad this transition “defense” is. Delon Wright picked up the loose ball and went right down main street without so much as even a cursory challenge:
3. The other thing that happened after Jaylen Brown went down was Marcus Smart tried to do too much. Way too much, actually. Smart finished the half shooting ok, as he was 4-of-8 from the field. But he had five turnovers, and many of them were sloppy, live-ball giveaways.
In the second half, Smart didn’t shoot it as well, but he played within the flow of the game. He didn’t turn the ball over at all and focused on getting it to the guys who had their scoring games going.
Like we said before: it was a tale of two halves.
4. Jayson Tatum had enough points in the first half to keep Boston within striking distance. In the second half, he made plays as a scorer and passer. This is Tatum keeping it simple to get a great shot for Al Horford:
Oh, how Celtics Nation would love to see this shot reemerge for Tatum:
While this one isn’t the highlight of a “lob to Rob”, Tatum has gotten really good at leaving it for his big men at the rim, as he does here for Horford:
5. The Celtics needed someone to step up scoring-wise with Jaylen Brown out. That someone ended up being Derrick White. White took over for a stretch of the third quarter, as he scored nine consecutive points to help take Boston from down 72-69 to up 78-76.
This was the first hoop in that sequence, as White got Trae Young on his hip and drove for the and-1 floater:
This is a good transition attack. Look right before Marcus Smart makes the pass and you’ll see Rob Williams telling him to get it to White. Williams then becomes a natural screener and White gets downhill for the floater over Clint Capela:
The floater seems to be White’s shot of choice. He’s good shooting it going to his right or left and from the middle or the baseline. This is a good finish over some contact:
6. In the third quarter, the Celtics defense made life miserable for the Hawks offense. Atlanta scored only 33 second-half points, but 10 of them came in final few minutes when Boston was more focused on keeping the clock running than risking fouls.
That means Atlanta scored 23 points in the first 21 minutes of the second half. Talk about putting the clamps on a team.
The Hawks shot 13-of-39 overall in the half (33.3%) and just 2-of-16 from behind the arc (12.5%). That’s high-level defense from the Celtics.
7. It was a pretty unremarkable first half from Grant Williams. He scored six points, which was fine, but struggled on defense to contain the Hawks ballhandlers. Like everyone else, Williams flipped a switch in the second half.
In addition to really good defense, Williams scored 12 points in the second half, including a little mini-run to close the third quarter. First, he let traffic clear so he could work on Trae Young on a post-up:
Then, Williams outworked everyone for position to get this putback to end the quarter:
The above offensive rebound was one of Boston’s 11 on the night. That helped the Celtics to a 20-3 advantage in second-chance points.
8. This play was a good example of how connected Boston’s defense was in the second half. The clip starts with Grant Williams contesting Danilo Gallinari in the corner. Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum combine to slow Gallinari’s drive, while Rob Williams stays home on Clint Capela in the dunker spot. Watch the righthand side of the clip as Gallinari drives. Grant recovers from his closeout to take Kevin Huerter away on the strongside wing. As he does that, Payton Pritchard slides over to contest the three-pointer from Bogdan Bogdanovic:
This is connected, switching defense that’s on a string.
9. We love to talk about winning plays. From the 4:04 mark of the fourth quarter to the 1:16 mark, the Celtics made five of them. Here they are, in order.
It should come as no surprised that the sequence started with Marcus Smart. This is pure hustle and desire:
This is a high-level pass from Jayson Tatum. He reads the double and Grant Williams rewards Tatum with a triple:
You want a win? You sacrifice to get it. This is why Marcus Smart is loved and trusted in Boston:
Tatum might not feel comfortable throwing Grant lobs, but he sure is comfortable passing Grant the ball out of double-teams:
After a couple of sloppy turnovers, Rob Williams was there to clean things up to cap off the game:
Do you know who Rob Williams is now, Shaquille O’Neal?
10. Once again, this was a game the Celtics would have lost in the first half of the season. It’s unlikely they would have even made a real run. Maybe one of those 14-2 runs late that takes the game from 20-plus points to single-digits for a brief moment.
Now, Boston has found their grit. They’ve found their fight. No lead seems insurmountable. And that defense…whew boy…that defense.
The Celtics get a real test next. Ja Morant and the brash, cocky, young Memphis Grizzlies come to town. They’re really, really good. Memphis will take the ball from you, dunk on you and then tell you about how they took the ball from you and dunked on you.
But don’t expect the Celtics to shrink. They’ll do plenty of talking of their own. It should be a fun night on Thursday in a game that can’t be missed. With no baseball season looming, the Boston Celtics are fun again and they’re a team the town can feel good about getting behind.