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Business-like control: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Hawks Game 4

Boston was in control all game and took a commanding 3-1 series lead

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

1. The best descriptor for the Boston Celtics Game 4 victory over the Atlanta Hawks is “business-like”. Boston was in control for the entire game. Atlanta’s biggest lead came when they were up 3-0 after their first shot. The Hawks last lead was 11-9 with 8:29 to play in the first quarter.

The Celtics didn’t exactly roll to victory, as their biggest lead was only 14 points. But it felt like the entire game was played with Boston leading by somewhere between 10 and six points.

The good sign for the Celtics was that whenever the Hawks made even a mini-run, Boston had an answer. And it wasn’t always just the old standby of “Give it to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and wait for them to create something”. Multiple Celtics answered the call. And that has Boston on the verge of moving on to the second round.

2. Despite the approach not being “Give it to Brown and Tatum”, the Celtics stars had plenty of impact in the second half.

Brown scored 22 of his 31 points after the break. Tatum had 18 of his 31 after aftertime. In the fourth quarter, the two stars combined for 28 points on 8-of-14 shooting. All of the buckets we’re about to show you came from the second half, as Brown and Tatum exerted their collective will on the Hawks.

After ditching his mask for the first time in months, Brown went on the attack. He catches this ball and immediately knows Saddiq Bey’s hips are open and the driving lane is there. Brown hangs for the nice finish:

Boston did a nice job of attacking the Atlanta bigs all game. Brown uses the runway here to get into Onyeka Okongwu to draw the and-1 with the strong finish:

Perhaps fearful of being beaten off the dribble, De’Andre Hunter is about a step too far from Brown here. This is a confident rise-and-fire from deep:

It took him a bit to find his range, but Tatum eventually got the jumpers to fall. This is the classic mismatch here. Murray is too small to really bother Tatum’s jumper, even if the closeout isn’t bad:

This is another example of Boston taking advantage of the bad Hawks defense. Why is anyone wandering away from Tatum here? He made them pay for this sloppiness:

Once Tatum was rolling, it didn’t matter how good the Hawks defense was:

At the end, Brown and Tatum each helped put a capper on the victory. First, Brown rescued this mess of a possession after some outstanding hustle from Rob Williams:

The next play, Tatum emphatically finished off the Hawks:

3. Rob Williams was dominant throughout the game. He finished with 13 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks and countless hustle plays to keep the ball alive for Boston.

Williams is also having an impact for Boston simply by hanging out around the basket for dump-off passes. Jaylen Brown found Williams for the first of consecutive easy ones here:

Similar set from Boston here, with a slightly different coverage from the Hawks. The result was the same:

A little later, Williams repaid Brown by setting him up for the corner triple:

4. Jayson Tatum stepped up beyond his scoring. He delivered some of the best rim protection in a single game of his career. With the Hawks trying to cut into the lead late in the first half, Tatum swatted away this attempt from Trae Young:

Being able to block your man after picking him up on a switch is big-time stuff:

Clint Capela thought he had an easy follow after Rob Williams challenged the initial shot. Not so fast with Tatum lurking:

5. The Celtics defense was pretty locked in for most of this game. They held the Hawks under 40% shooting from the field for a large portion of the game. Atlanta was in the low-40s until a barrage of made shots in the fourth quarter, when Boston was in no-foul, prevent defense.

The Celtics also cleaned up a lot of their rebounding. Rob Williams said that Joe Mazzulla told him after Game 3 to “get a MF’ing rebound” and Williams responded with 12 defensive boards. Al Horford also got on the glass with eight defensive rebounds. And Horford drew three fouls on Hawks on box-out plays. All around, Boston did a much better job of cleaning the glass in Game 4 than they did in Game 3.

6. It wasn’t clear until shortly before the game if Marcus Smart would even play. At times, Smart seemed like he was hampered by the hip/back injury he’s fighting through. But, like the gamer he is, Smart made several big plays to help keep the Hawks at bay.

On this play, Smart got downhill and did a good job going right into Clint Capela’s chest for the finish:

This one should have been a four-point play, but Smart did a good job catching Capela hesitating between coming out to him or staying with Al Horford in the nearside corner:

Boston is going to see a lot of drop coverage in the next round against the 76ers. It’s important that Smart is patient and gets to his spots, as opposed to being baited into launching ill-advised threes. This is a good shot for Smart:

Every once and a while, Smart knows he can beat his man on an end-of-clock play. Even more rare is seeing Smart punching one like this:

7. Derrick White was again quietly efficient. He’s been so good this season, and in this series, that his play doesn’t even fully stand out all the time. It’s just sort of expected now.

We love seeing White let it fly right off the catch like this:

When you’re a shooter, you get the shooter’s roll:

White’s ability to change from scorer to playmaker from game to game, and even within the same game, it’s incredibly valuable to Boston. Plays like this, where White kicks to the open shooter, make the Celtics really hard to guard:

8. We mentioned it with Marcus Smart, but the same is true for both Derrick White and especially Malcolm Brogdon: they need to punish teams when they drop the big off screens.

Onyeka Okongwu is back here and shading to help. Brogdon doesn’t hesitate to go right into his shot:

On this one, Okongwu jumps up to Brogdon. So, Brogdon hit him with the hesitation dribble to get to the layup:

Once there is confusion, Boston can run slips with their smalls. This is a pretty dime from Brogdon to White:

But, again, if bigs are going to lay back, the Celtics need to punish them for it, like this:

9. Al Horford didn’t score in Game 4. He only took two shots, which probably should change. But Horford’s impact was all over the game. He did a good job directly rebounding, and he did a great job of doing the dirty work with boxing out and contesting shots.

Horford also did some playmaking too. We love the big-to-big stuff the Celtics break out sometimes. And it’s super fun to see how fired up Horford gets after he set up Rob Williams for the and-1 dunk here:

Backdoor cuts against a stressed and extended defense are a great way to score. They work even better when your big men can drop dimes like this:

10. The Celtics are up 3-1 and headed home for Game 5. While it’s not a must-win by any means, Boston would be well-served to finish this series on Tuesday night. That would give them three days of rest and practice time before starting their second-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

It’s important to get Marcus Smart off his feet for a couple of days, while giving everyone else the opportunity for recovery time, and Joe Mazzulla and staff a chance to prep for Philadelphia.

It’s also important to get that next series started as soon as possible, as Joel Embiid’s status is up in the air. Most believe Embiid will play, but he’s likely to be hampered at least somewhat by the sprained knee he suffered in Game 3 of the Sixers first-round series.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much. Boston needs to finish off Atlanta on Tuesday. That should happen, and let’s hope it happens early. Jump on the Hawks from the jump and get them thinking about summer vacation.

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