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Boston Celtics struggle to contain red-hot Atlanta Hawks offense, lose 130-122

The Celtics hit a whopping 21 threes, but couldn’t find enough defensive stops to shut down the Hawks

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Winners of two straight games on their home court, the Boston Celtics hit the road on Friday night to attempt the hardest feat in any playoff series: winning their first game on the road. But despite hitting a whopping 21 three-pointers on the evening, the Celtics found themselves overwhelmed by a red-hot Atlanta Hawks offense, missing out on a chance to take a commanding 3-0 series lead with a 130-122 loss.

Jayson Tatum led the way this evening with a 29-10-5-2 stat line. Behind him was a comprehensive outing from the deep Boston guard room, with Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon combining for 43 points and 10 made threes. The Hawks reversed the script of the series to this point, however, scoring seemingly at will and maintaining control of the game from wire-to-wire. Seven Hawks scored in double figures, led by 32 points and 9 assists from Trae Young in what was easily his best performance of the series thus far.

After a slow start saw them fall behind by double-digits early in Game 2, the Celtics found a better pace out of the gate in Game 3. They hit nine threes and raced out to 37 first quarter points, 19 of which came from Tatum and the newly crowned Sixth Man of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon. However, the defense that had excelled in the first two games of the series seemed a bit lax this time around, allowing the Hawks to shoot better than 50% from the field and score 33 points of their own. It was apparently early — this was not going to be a defense-forward game.

The Hawks have had at least one big run in every game of the series thus far, and this time, it seemed to come at the start of the second quarter. They jumped ahead on a 12-5 advantage to start the quarter, though Smart’s third and fourth three-pointers of the night slowed the advance slightly. Atlanta’s offense was just absolutely cooking. The Hawks shot 65% from the field in the first half — including 35 points from their bench — and even 15 threes from the Celtics couldn’t stop them from piling up a double-digit lead. A 9-2 Boston run late in the quarter evened the odds somewhat, but the Celtics trailed at the halftime break by seven, 74-76.

Four minutes into the second half, the game was tied once again. Boston opened the half on a 12-5 run, knotting the game up at 79-all with eight minutes to play in the third. The Hawks retaliated quickly, restoring an eight-point edge, but the frenetic offensive pace of the game finally slowed in the ensuing minutes. Both teams came back to Earth somewhat, with the Celtics particularly struggling to convert on a number of second chance opportunities. The quarter in a nutshell: Brogdon missed on a wide-open three-point attempt in the final minute, and Robert Williams III grabbed the ensuing board but missed the put-back dunk. The Celtics entered the final quarter trailing by seven points, 100-93.

Grant Williams found his way back into the rotation after a pair of DNP-CDs to open the series, and he looked energized in his return to the court. He had his hands in everything this evening, cashing in on all four of his threes, dishing two assists, swiping a steal and drawing a charge. He lifted the Celtics in a major way this evening, and may have restored a regular rotation for himself going forward this postseason.

An 11-0 Boston run spanning the end of the third quarter into the early minutes of the fourth once again brought the Celtics with striking distance of the lead. They stayed within one possession of the Hawks for the early minutes of the quarter, but consecutive buckets by Young and De’Andre Hunter put Atlanta back ahead by seven with seven minutes to play. This game was clearly going to come down to the wire.

A Tatum dunk brought the Celtics back within three with just over four minutes remaining in regulation, prompting a timeout from Hawks coach Quin Snyder. Back-and-forth the two teams went for the next several possessions, with Boston gaining just a point on the Hawks over the next two minutes of game time. With two minutes to play, a corner three from Young — enjoying his best game of the series thus far — gave the Hawks a five-point edge.

Points came quickly over the next minute. Boston responded to Young’s three with a layup from Smart, which was quickly erased by a corner three from Murray, which itself was then erased by a three from Smart. In a crucial sequence, the Celtics finally found a defensive stop, but Tatum couldn’t connect on the game-tying three on the ensuing possession, and a Young floater again pushed the Hawks ahead five with just 45 seconds remaining. This proved to be the defining moment of the night — Brown missed a three-pointer on the next Celtics possession, and that was the Celtics’ last gasp for the evening.

Next up, the series will continue to roll forward this weekend, as the Celtics stay in Atlanta for Game 4 against the Hawks this Sunday at 7 PM EST on TNT.

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