Atlanta came into the game as the veteran team and they responded like one lead behind a strong fourth quarter performance from Jeff Teague in a 102-101 Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics.
“Last year was a great run for us, Eastern Conference Finals,” said Kent Bazemore in postgame. “Going that deep it does help, some people think it does not just because it’s a different year. Experience at times does beat talent.”
“I have been in the playoff every year, so I’m used to how it goes,” said Jeff Teague, who scored nine of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. “You cant get too high when you win and you cant get too low when you lose. We have a veteran group around here. We have been through some wars.”
Two teams that mirror one another in many ways were easily distinguished by defensive intensity early on. Even with the playoff experience from last season, Boston looked as if that experience had never happened in the first half. For most of it, Isaiah Thomas probed and probed searching for a soft spot in the Hawks defensive shield, but to no avail. The team shot just 23-percent from the field and 12.5-percent from downtown.
Surely, the Hawks were aware of the fight Boston has shown throughout this season, just recently coming behind from a 20 point deficit to defeat the Miami Heat. They trailed by 17 after the first half against Atlanta.
“They are great team coming from behind,” said Bazemore. “You look at the last regular season game, down huge to Miami. They came out in the third quarter to make it interesting. They have some blue collard guys over there that I really respect. They are not going to quit.”
“We knew that they would come back,” said Kyle Korver, who had a dismal 1-for-10 shooting performance. “We watched the Miami game. We just have to be a little bit tighter. Transition defense is going to be a huge key to this series.”
In the third quarter, Brad Stevens removed a struggling Amir Johnson (0-for-1 in first half) and replaced him with Evan Turner, sparking an 11-3 run right out of the gate. They then ended the quarter scoring 11 fast break points, bringing the lead down to just seven.
“We are a team that doesn’t really like playing in the half court. We know it’s the playoffs so we have to execute. But we know if we get out and get transition baskets it’s going to help guy’s confidence. Help us get closer to a win,” said Isaiah Thomas who finished with 27 points.
Despite the run in the third and outscoring Atlanta 36-30 in the fourth, the first half proved to be too much for the Celtics to overcome. Comebacks are apart of what makes basketball amazing, but the Celtics know that you can’t put yourself in that kind of situation against a defense like Atlanta’s. Playoff battled tested teams like the Hawks understand when — a run like that is made — one of the best ways to respond is to attack the basket and force the opponent into foul trouble. They did just that forcing the Celtics into five team fouls with midway through the fourth, as Teague and Horford took over, scoring 15 points combined in the last seven minutes.
“We can’t put ourselves in that big of a whole,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “It takes so much energy and so much time to get back in the game. We seem to always get back in the game, but tonight we couldn’t pull it off.”
For Atlanta, the best part about winning ugly is… it’s still a win. The adjustments will obviously be playing through Coach Budenholzer’s head all night into tomorrow to discuss with the team. However, in a series like this where both teams are so much alike, a win is never taken for granted.
“We know we won game one at home,” said Korver. “We didn’t play well in the second half. We will have to play better to win. But at the same time playoff wins are huge. We’ll take any of them.”