After getting a much-needed victory against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, the Celtics won again tonight, beating the Hawks 134-125. Jayson Tatum led the team with 34 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 assists, as he hopes to have a strong March and get back in the MVP conversation. Jaylen Brown finished with 24 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds, while Malcolm Brogdon (18 points and 5 assists) and Derrick White (18 points and 7 assists) each had solid nights. The Celtics shot 48 percent from three and collected 34 assists.
After the Celtics went up by 15 in the 3rd quarter, the Hawks made a run at the end of the 3rd and into the 4th with their star, Trae Young, on the bench. They cut the deficit to five late in the final frame, but couldn’t get enough stops. Young led the team with 35 points and 13 assists, and Atlanta’s 13 offensive rebounds kept it competitive.
Tonight was the first of a six-game road trip. After Atlanta, the Celtics play four relatively easy opponents (Houston, Minnesota, Portland, and Utah), and the trip ends on March 21st against the Sacramento Kings. That game, along with a March 30th matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, are Boston’s only remaining playoff opponents this month. Translation: tonight began an important stretch where they could rally off some wins and smooth out the issues from their recent 2-4 stretch.
Both teams played with All-Star game defensive intensity at the start. The score was 25-22 by the 6:00 mark, as the Hawks hit their first six field goal attempts, but the Celtics weren’t too shabby either. They missed their first two shots, but connected on their next nine, which included five threes — two each from Smart and Tatum with one from Horford. There were 12 lead changes in the quarter and no fouls until the 5:41 mark.
The Hawks held a narrow 38-37 lead by the end of the 1st quarter after shooting 67 percent from the field and only missing two 2-point attempts. But the Celtics dominated the beginning of the 2nd quarter, going on an 18-2 run and taking a 57-42 lead. Malcolm Brogdon was the catalyst with 7 points and 3 assists. Atlanta cut it to 62-53 after De’Andre Hunter drained a three on Trey Young’s 10th first-half assist, and Boston responded with great sequence that led to a Tatum dunk:
Ball movement leads to JT open under the basket! pic.twitter.com/NMc8VP8OM6— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) March 12, 2023
Boston led 71-61 at the half. They shot 12-of-24 from deep and collected 18 assists. Tatum led the way with 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, while Brogdon (11 points and 4 assists), Sam Hauser (3-for-3 from deep), Jaylen Brown (12 points), and Derrick White (5 points and 5 assists) all made valuable contributions. For Atlanta, Young had 17 points and 11 assists while Hunter scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
The Celtics opened the 3rd quarter shooting 3-of-9, but they took a 82-68 lead after Jaylen went deep in his bag and hit a one-legged off-the-dribble fadeaway. The Hawks started the half playing with greater defensive intensity, but that only lasted so long. The Celtics got everything they wanted: an open shot from a drive-and-kick on one possession, a backdoor cut on the next, then an uncontested transition three. There was no resistance on the ball and late rotations while the Celtics swung it around the perimeter.
The Hawks closed the quarter strong, with Onyeka Okongwu getting offensive rebounds on back-to-back possessions. The first resulted in a three from the newly-acquired Saddiq Bey, and the next he converted on the and-1 layup. The Celtics held a comfortable 101-89 lead after three periods, but they weren’t able to extend their lead into the 20s.
Atlanta cut the deficit to five as Bey provided an offensive spark, Clint Capela dominated the offensive glass, and Dejounte Murray played menacing defense. They made their run with Young on the bench. Tatum hit a series of contested back-breaking jumpers, but the Hawks never bowed out.
With 4:07 remaining and the Celtics up 119-111, Tatum picked up his 5th foul. Young came back and hit a step back three, but Boston responded with Marcus Smart driving and finding Horford for a corner three, then Tatum getting a rebound, beating the Atlanta defenders up the floor, and finishing a fastbreak dunk.
The Celtics couldn’t help but make the game interesting. Smart missed a wide open layup, then he and Young had a mini scuffle with 1:25 to play, which led to Smart getting ejected. Atlanta got it close, but ended up losing by nine. The Celtics looked like the offensive juggernaut from earlier in the season, and this was their highest regulation scoring output since February 1st against Brooklyn.
They look to win three straight this Monday, as they travel to Houston to play the Rockets.