Hawks @ Celtics — Things of Note

Graham Chapple —  February 28, 2017

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks — behind an excellent second half — ended their three game skid with an excellent road victory against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden on Monday night. Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 19 points on 4-of-21 shooting, ending his 43 game streak of scoring 20 or more points in a game.

He’s had an incredible run at it, and you’re going to have nights like that. That’s certainly the case. But you know, again, I think we should also credit Atlanta. I feel like Atlanta deserves to be credited for (their defense); I thought they played great.”

— Coach Brad Stevens

Former Hawk Al Horford scored six points on 3-of-9 shooting.

Dwight’s eventful night

Eventful is certainly one way to describe Dwight Howard’s night… At least we’re not talking about some Schröder-Thomas nonsense, I suppose…

Dwight was having a very decent game. He had the advantage over the Celtics when it came to rebounding (grabbing six offensive rebounds and 12 overall), he was hitting the majority of his free throws and he was playing good defense…things were going great. Then the third quarter happened. Things got a little chippy with Al Horford, Dwight taking exception to a foul that Horford committed.

Dwight earned — and it was well earned — a technical foul for that shove. After Horford picked up his fourth foul, Dwight’s game continued to trend upwards, enjoying favorable match-ups in Horford’s absence. And then…then this happened (yay, timestamps):

Dwight was issued a second technical foul for hanging on the rim and he was ejected, but not before trolling a Celtics fan.

This was a terrible call. Dwight had even hung on the rim for longer than this earlier in the same game. In terms of pulling himself up, Dwight didn’t pull his chin above the rim but the way Dwight jerked his body made this upward movement much more pronounced and that’s why, I believe, he was given the tech. Also, he’s Dwight Howard…so of course he’s getting a tech.

To be fair, Dwight should know better. Even if it was a weak call, when you’re sitting on one tech…don’t give the officials any reason/excuse to give you another. There’s no need to wiggle like that when you’re hanging on the rim. Dwight acknowledged his error postgame:

“I apologized to the guys. I have to do a better job of keeping my composure. And they understood. … I have to do a better job of after I get one trying to scale back. I was just trying to be aggressive and try to send a message. I apologized to the team for that mistake. I’ll continue to be as aggressive as I can.”

— Dwight Howard

Postgame, and quite quickly too, the NBA issued a statement saying that Dwight should not have been ejected from the game.

But this didn’t help the Hawks in the current moment. Dwight had been enjoying good match-ups all night long, was playing good defense and was having his way on the glass and now that personnel advantage the Hawks had was gone. With the Boston crowd now riled up (after a little encouragement from Horford) this had all the makings of a potential turning point in Boston’s favor. But the Hawks didn’t cave under the bright lights nor the loud crowd. Atlanta held a 10 point lead at the time (4:03 remaining in the third quarter) of the ejection and extended that lead to 13 by the end of the third quarter, surviving the initial storm. From the there, the Hawks silenced the crowd and put the Celtics to bed in the fourth quarter, extending their lead as high as 24 points.

“I think the first technical, we want to bring an edge to the game and a physicality but we can be smarter and not pick up technical. Dwight is playing like that we’d love to have him for 48 minutes. Hanging on the rim, I guess it’s just the emotion of the moment. The way the team responded, everybody appreciated what Dwight did up until that point.”

— Coach Mike Budenholzer

A lucky escape for Dwight. This game really could’ve swung in Boston’s favor and this would’ve been the turning point. You have to give the Hawks a lot of credit. In the face of adversity, on the road too against a very good team, they came through with a huge win and they had to win this game.

Limiting IT

Two time All-Star Isaiah Thomas is the player who makes the Celtics tick. If you limit him, you give yourself a chance to win. And that’s what the Hawks did. Well, to an extent. While the Hawks did do a very good job defending Thomas, Thomas did miss a good number of shots that he would normally make. And that’s what Thomas himself believed:

“Tonight was just an off night for me. So you have those….” 

“They didn’t do nothing special. It’s just I missed a lot of shots in the paint that I usually make. I got to where I wanted to. That wasn’t just me, it was our team. We missed a lot of shots that we usually make, and you’ve just got to tip your hat off to the Atlanta Hawks.”

— Isaiah Thomas

Celtics coach Brad Stevens gave the Hawks a lot more credit for their defense of Thomas:

“They were really aggressive on him. They were really tough on him. They bodied him up. They were physical. They had a bunch of different guys on him at different times. They were very active off of the screens. I think they’re one of the best teams in the league using their hands — in a legal way. I mean, they’re just really active with their hands. And then the biggest thing against this team that we’ve struggled with all the way back to last year is just finishing at the rim.”

— Coach Brad Stevens

The Hawks did a great job getting physical with IT and making sure that if he was driving toward the rim there would be a body to challenge him, resulting in either Thomas putting up a tough shot at the rim or kicking it out to a teammate. Thomas shot 3-of-13 around the rim.

Here’s a few examples of Thomas driving into multiple Hawks.

Taurean Prince with a great vertical challenge:

And from Paul:

The Hawks blocked 10 shots in this game with Thomas having three of his shots blocked.

Here’s one from Baze in the third quarter as Thomas almost caught the Hawks napping after a made basket.

Here’s an excellent, multiple effort defensive trip. Thomas uses an Amir Johnson screen to wriggle away from Schröder and Dwight does a good job keeping with Thomas before blocking his shot. Thomas gathers his own rebound and, after he receives the ball again, the Hawks do a good job pressuring Thomas, who rifles a pass out of bounds.

Dennis Schröder had one of his better defensive games of the season, perhaps he dialled up his intensity because, let’s be honest, it’s Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics. Still, you have to give him credit, he played some good defense — on-ball and off-ball — on Thomas,

The Hawks, in general, were happy with their overall defensive effort, probably the best defensive effort since before the All-Star break.

“That’s our staple. That is who we are. We have to bring that type of intensity every single night. That shows how good we can be on the defensive end.”

— Paul Millsap

The Hawks held the Celtics to 39% shooting from the field, 29% from behind the arc and posted a defensive rating of 91.

Al Horford’s foul trouble

This was a major factor in Monday’s win. When Al Horford picked up his fourth foul with 8:45 remaining in the third quarter, Brad Steven pulled him from the game, his side leading the Hawks 57-56. By the time Horford checked back in place of Kelly Olynyk — who had just picked up his fourth foul and a technical foul — at the 1:52 mark (still in the third quarter) the Celtics trailed 81-69, a 24-13 run in Horford’s absence.

What Horford’s absence resulted in better post-up match-ups (if there is such a thing) for Dwight Howard, better rebounding match-ups for Dwight and a lack of rim protection which Dennis Schröder took advantage of. Horford is also one of the Celtics’ better offensive players and one of the better passers on the floor and his absence was telling. Horford played five third quarter minutes and the Celtics posted a third quarter offensive rating of 85. For the season, Horford averages just under nine third quarter minutes and the Celtics average a third quarter offensive rating of 106.6. Correlation or coincidence? Either way, it was a very important stage of this game that the Hawks took advantage of.

Return to starting lineup normality

Order was finally restored, Dennis Schröder returned to the starting lineup after being suspended for the Miami game for returning late for practise after the All-Star break and demoted to the bench for the Magic game for showing up late to the team bus. Thabo Sefolosha was also re-inserted into the starting lineup in place of Tim Hardaway Jr., who returned to the bench.

Dennis was keen to put these recent incidents behind him and scored a game-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting. This was a very positive game for Dennis, who really struggled against the Celtics the last time these two teams played on January 13th where he scored just four points on 2-of-11 shooting and given his recent issues.

“I think that everybody was a little (ticked) off because of the last two games. Everybody played together. I came back in the starting lineup and everybody was on the same page from the start.” 

— Dennis Schröder

Sefolosha, meanwhile, needed to be re-inserted into the lineup. The Hawks’ defense has not been good in his absence and his presence on the floor is so reassuring because you know he’s going to immediately make this team better, coming up with plays like these:

“The energy, the (defensive) mindset. We came in from the very first minute wanting to win the game. And it showed. That’s just the way we have to play every night.”

— Thabo Sefolosha

Perhaps a little more unusually, Thabo had a great game on the offensive end scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and 2-of-2 from behind the arc. It’s such a huge bonus for the Hawks when Thabo can just give the Hawks that little boost they need when it comes to scoring. While you don’t necessarily need Thabo to score 12-14 points every night, it really helps the Hawks when that shot is going down. In fact, the Hawks are 16-7 when Thabo scores just eight or more points in a game and 12-4 when he scores 10 or more in a game.

Normality in the starting lineup has been restored.

Winning the miscellaneous stats

NBA.com classifies points off of turnovers, second chance points, fastbreak points and points in the paint as “miscellaneous”. Last night, the Hawks won all of these categories.

Points off of turnovers

The Celtics committed 18 turnovers last night and the Hawks were sure to punish those, scoring 25 points off of those. The Hawks committed a reasonable 14 turnovers with the Celtics only scoring 11 points off of those.

Fastbreak points

Turnovers usually lead to fastbreak points and the Hawks edged the Celtics in this category 15-7. The Hawks did a decent job turning defense to offense, as displayed by Thabo Sefolosha here:

Second chance points

We briefly touched on the rebounding earlier. The Hawks out-rebounded the Celtics 55-40 while snatching 13 offensive rebounds with Dwight securing six of those. From those resulting 13 offensive rebeounds, the Hawks scored 20 second chance points, edging the Celtics by nine in that category.

Points in the paint

The Hawks absolutely destroyed the Celtics in paint points, 60-34, The Celtics took 34 shots from behind the three-point line and only shot 17-of-42 in the restricted area…40.5%. For reference, the league average percentage from that area is 56.5%.

The Hawks were able to exploit the Celtics’ lack of rim protection — and Isaiah Thomas — shooting 30-of-47 at the restricted area.

So, as you can see, it wasn’t that the Celtics couldn’t get to the rim. They missed quite a number of shots and the Hawks came up with 10 blocks. Give the Hawks credit, they played a very good defensive game and the points in the paint disparity played a huge role in this game.

Up next:

The Hawks (33-26) now head home and open up a six game home stand against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.

Game stats: NBA.com
Hawks quotes: The AJC via Chris Vivlamore
Celtics quotes: MassLive.com via Jay King
Other Celtics quotes used: Boston Herald via Steve Bulpett

Graham Chapple