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Executing to closing it out: 11 Takeaways from Celtics-Hawks Game 6

Boston used a huge fourth quarter push to finish off Atlanta in six games

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

1. After the Game 5 debacle, we served up some hearty slices of blame pie. It’s only fair, after the Boston Celtics figured it out and executed down the stretch to closeout the Atlanta Hawks, that we serve up from compliment cake.

This win featured contributions up and down the roster and from Joe Mazzulla orchestrating things on the sidelines. Trailing by three points with 6:24 to play in the game, Boston went on an 11-0 run over the next 4:29 to take control and win the series.

The Hawks went 2-for-11 from the field with two turnovers over the final six minutes of the game. The Celtics were 6-of-10 with one turnover during that same stretch.

The late-game execution was far better than what we are used to. On defense, Boston was locked in. They hounded the Hawks into some misses with tight defense. The Celtics forced some turnovers, including a hilarious sequence where it took the Atlanta four tries to get the ball inbounded before they threw it away.

On offense, things were fairly encouraging. Instead of the same old walk-it-up, bleed-the-clock, take-a-bad-late-clock-shot offense, Boston actually ran stuff. And the few plays where the Celtics did hold the ball, they got downhill and created something, as opposed to taking a contested jumper.

Taking six games to dispatch the Hawks isn’t overly encouraging, especially considering almost all of the games were close and the series should have been over in five. What is encouraging is that the Celtics showed real improvement in their play in the clutch in Game 6. They executed and made plays on both ends of the floor.

We’re going to do the Takeaways a little differently today. The following plays are presented in sequential order as they happened down the stretch. Yes, they feature a handful of Celtics more than others. That’s how it works at the end of close games in the NBA. But in no way are we suggesting that this wasn’t a team effort. Every Celtic who played did something positive to help the team close out the series. These were just the biggest plays down the stretch.

Because they won’t feature in the clips, we want to give some love here to Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams and Joe Mazzulla. White was off on offense, but his defense was again big. He made several big plays to keep Boston within one-possession late in the third and early in the fourth quarters.

Brogdon was exactly what everyone said the Celtics needed. He hit several shots to keep the offense afloat while Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown rested.

Williams got the call and stepped up. He only made one shot, but he did great work on defense, as he helped Boston lift their pickup points higher up the floor. And Williams did a great job of boxing out his man and keeping him off the glass.

Mazzulla is clearly still searching a bit for his ideal closing lineup. Rather than force something, he just situationally subbed throughout the entire endgame of Game 6. He made the right call on who should be on the floor time after time, whether rotating the three bigs or shuttling out guards in offense-defense switch-outs. He also changed up the defensive coverages, springing the occasional double on Young, while changing the pickup points as previously referenced.

2. Right before this clip starts, Jaylen Brown rescued the possession by tracking down a deflected pass in the backcourt. There’s no panic and no rush from Brown. He gets to his spot, rocks John Collins back a bit with the dribble and buries the triple:

3. After a couple of missed shots by both teams, Jayson Tatum found Marcus Smart out of a double-team. Smart could have gone up with the shot here, but he kicked it to Al Horford in the corner to give Boston the lead:

4. Boston did a nice job of finding the matchups they liked late in the game, without overdoing it. One of those attack points was John Collins. You saw it earlier with Jaylen Brown. Here, Jayson Tatum and Brown ran two-man action to get Collins guarding Tatum. It’s not bad defense from Collins, but he’s again a half-step too far off and Tatum rises and fires:

5. At the end of Game 5, Jaylen Brown played a bit too far off Trae Young on the game-winning shot. Brown made up for it with some good defense late in Game 6. This was an outstanding recovery block to keep the Celtics rolling:

6. This whole thing was just awesome. Jayson Tatum drew the double-team and found Marcus Smart again. When he got into the lane, Smart kicked it out to Al Horford for three. As the shot went up, Tatum read it and threw down the loud follow:

7. All series long, Trae Young has been killing the Celtics when they are in drop coverage. The handful of times when the big has stepped up, Young has either gotten to the rim or lobbed it up to a teammate.

On this one, Rob Williams picks up Young just enough higher, while Clint Capela is still above the arc. The result is Young has to drive it himself and Williams erases the shot:

8. After the above block, the Hawks finally snapped the Celtics run with a three-pointer. Boston was going to have to execute a little bit more to finish this one off.

Marcus Smart had missed a couple of shots earlier in the quarter. But when you are loved and trusted, you keep shooting. Jaylen Brown drew two on his drive, kicked it out and Smart delivered:

9. The Hawks hit another three-pointer after a timeout, making the Celtics have to execute again on offense.

Once again, Jayson Tatum drew a double-team. Rather than holding the ball or dribbling away from the extra defend or launching a contested shot over two guys, Tatum gets the ball moving to Marcus Smart on the slip. Smart looked like he wanted to kick it out to a shooter, but the Hawks stayed home, so Smart took the surprisingly easy one at the rim himself:

10. After a wild scramble, following a dubious three-shot foul call, the Celtics needed one stop. They didn’t secure the rebound, but Jayson Tatum was there to get the stop:

The previously-mentioned inbounding silliness happened, the Celtics hit a couple of free throws, picked off a Trae Young pass and the series was over.

11. It wasn’t a perfect series for Boston Celtics. The playoffs rarely are perfect. The number that really matters in a series is “four”. Get to four wins before the other team does and your season continues. Do that four times and you have a parade, get some rings and raise a banner.

It doesn’t really matter how you get there, but that you get there. Four times four to equal 16. That’s the goal. 16 equals 18 for the Celtics. They’re a quarter of the way there.

Next up are the well-rested Philadelphia 76ers, who won’t have played in nine days. It’s the classic “rest vs rust” argument that has gone around sports for decades. We’ll cover everything here on CelticsBlog as Boston searches out the next four wins.

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