The Atlanta Hawks drew first blood in their round one matchup against the Boston Celtics, 101-102, to take a 1-0 lead in the series. The Hawks were led by Jeff Teague and Al Horford, who both registered double-doubles, while the Celtics were led by Isaiah Thomas’ 27 points and eight assists.
Kent Bazemore also had a great game for the Hawks, scoring 23 points and was a constant menace to the Celtics’ defense with his cutting action.
A tale of two halves
The Celtics were pretty poor on the offensive end in the first half — 12-of-52 (23.1%) shooting and 2-of-16 (12.5%) from behind the arc made for a very disappointing first half for the Celtics. Bad shots, settling for jump shots, and some great defense displayed by the Hawks limited the Celtics to 34 first half points. However, sometimes words simply aren’t enough, and with that I present you the Celtics’ first half shot chart.
“We have to figure this first half thing out. It’s killing us.” — Jae Crowder
The Celtics ramped up their intensity in the second half and those shooting numbers began to improve. In the second half, the Celtics shot 50% from the field and 47% from behind the arc — thanks to better shot selection, better ball movement, a lineup change, and more Isaiah Thomas in the third quarter.
Let’s start with the change Brad Stevens made to begin the third quarter. Evan Turner started the third quarter in place of Amir Johnson. Turner’s impact was undeniable — he played the entire third quarter, scored eight points in the period, and registered a +/- rating of plus- 10. Not the most outstanding numbers, but he gave the Celtics the option to play small and was able to contribute more than Amir Johnson.
While the Celtics started rolling, the Hawks’ offense began to slip. In the second half, they were outscored 51-67 and shot 36.6% and a worrying 7.1% from downtown. However, Paul Millsap believed that the Celtics’ comeback wasn’t so much what the Celtics did, but more so what the Hawks didn’t do.
“I don’t think it was anything they did. We lost our flow. We didn’t play basketball in the first half. Our transition defense wasn’t that great. They got some good looks. They got some layups. Just like that, they are back in the game.” — Paul Millsap
Kent Bazemore gave the Celtics a little more credit.
“…Teams are going to make runs. That’s the NBA. Being down 30 in this league is like being down eight or 10 to certain teams. A couple of 3-pointers, some fast-break layups and you are back in a dogfight. So, you just have to stay with it. You have to understand that very good teams are going to make runs. We’ve seen them do it before.” — Kent Bazemore
This is the Hawks’ second half shot chart, they were able to do what they wanted around the rim, but their outside shooting was all but absent in Game 1.
Quite the contrast, however, compared to the Celtics’ second half shot chart, particularly from the outside.
“…Probably, more than anything, they were more aggressive, upped their activity…” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
The Celtics outscored the Hawks by 10 in the third quarter, and eventually completed their 19 point comeback to take a three point lead in the fourth quarter. While the Hawks’ poor second half shooting continued in the fourth quarter, they were able to make plays and get stops to get the job done.
“I think both teams really made it hard on each other, maybe a tale of two different halves. What they were able to do in the second half, luckily we had a little bit of a cushion and made enough plays down the stretch…” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
The Celtics were encouraged that they had a chance to win this game despite how bad they were in the first half.
“I don’t think we’re gonna go many halves missing 40 shots. I think that’s most encouraging.” — Evan Turner
While that maybe true, the Celtics are also very unlikely going to hold the Hawks to 18% shooting from behind the arc, Dennis Schröder (more than likely) isn’t going 0-of-6 from the floor again, and Kyle Korver is not going 0-for-7 from behind the arc.
The Teague and Horford connection
Jeff Teague and Al Horford have been in Atlanta a long time. Horford has been around since 2007, and Teague since 2009. Currently, they are the Hawks’ two longest serving members and, as such, have developed a connection. An understanding.
They were both fantastic last night, and both produced double-doubles — Teague scoring 23 points and dishing out 12 assists, while Horford scored 24 points and secured 12 rebounds. Horford’s success was a huge reason why Paul Millsap only took 11 shots last night (attempting only five in the second half). The 1-5 pick and roll was something that the Celtics struggled to contain, Teague connecting with Horford time and time again. Let’s take a closer look at this connection.
After a bit of build up play, Horford and Teague execute the pick and roll.
With Horford putting his body in between Thomas, the lane to the rim is open. This is why Jared Sullinger has to plug that driving lane, because that’s a lot of space for Teague to exploit with his burning pace. So, Sullinger covers for Thomas, and forces Teague toward the baseline.
Isaiah Thomas is able to extend some pressure from behind, helping Sullinger limit Teague where he is able to roam. However, Sullinger leaving Horford gives Al license to roam and find his spot. Horford doesn’t need a lot of space to let it fly and Teague knows exactly how to find Horford.
By the time Teague has connected with his center, it’s pretty much too late. Crowder is close-ish to Horford, but his attention is on Teague, and by the time he changes his priorities it’s too late.
Horford, alternatively, could’ve also swung the ball to a wide open Millsap behind the three-point line if he had desired to do so. You can also see, although the film may suggest that he’s closer, that Crowder is scrambling to close out Horford as he begins his shooting motion.
In the second quarter, Teague and Horford play a little two man game. Kelly Olynyk does a good job of cutting off the driving lane away from Teague, but the price he must pay for doing so is leaving Al Horford open just inside the three-point line. Again, Teague has a great feel for where his big man is, and finds Horford, who punishes Olynyk for giving him too much space.
That’s too much space to give someone who possesses the offensive capabilities as Al Horford does. Another successful connection for Teague and Horford.
In the fourth quarter, Teague and Horford attempt to hook up again. After Horford sets a number of screens for Teague, Jeff is eventually able to get inside the paint. He instinctively knows his big man is not rolling to the rim, but hanging back. Teague, knowing that he has attracted Horford’s defender with his penetration, tosses the ball over his head and finds a wide open Horford. Horford now has a wide open shot.
Although Horford missed the shot on this occasion, this play shows the fantastic feel that Teague and Horford have for each other. The connection is undeniable.
“They’ve played together for a long time. They’ve got a good feel for each other’s games…” — Kyle Korver
“I just think the way that the game was going, that they did a good job of taking some of our other options away. Jeff had good rhythm. We are just trying to win so we are making plays…” — Al Horford
“That is just me and him playing together for a while. That 1-5 pick-and-roll, we were really good at. Throughout the whole game I tried to get things going and feed the big guy.” — Jeff Teague
And feed the big man he did, fantastic performances from both Teague and Horford.
Avery Bradley injury
Celtics guard, and elite perimeter defender, Avery Bradley suffered a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter. Bradley did a great job challenging a Jeff Teague layup, but a bad landing made Bradley a little uneasy, and he pulled up as he made his way down the court. He needed to be helped off the court, unable to walk by himself. Brad Stevens conceded it’s “unlikely” that Bradley returns in this series.
“Avery has a pretty significant strained hamstring. I would say he would be doubtful for any of the remainder of the series, certainly very unlikely Tuesday night (Game 2).” — Coach Brad Stevens
Bradley scored 18 points in Game 1, but it’s his perimeter defense that the Celtics will really miss — one less defender to hide Isaiah Thomas. It’s unfortunate for Boston, but they have the depth, in Marcus Smart, to help fill that hole.
Hawks’ three-point shooting woes
The Hawks really struggled to hit their threes last night. After shooting 2-of-4 in the first quarter, the Hawks eventually finished the game 5-of-27 from behind the arc — 18.5%. The second half three-point shooting was pretty horrific, 1-of-14 (7.1%) shooting painted a pretty gory three-point picture.
Kyle Korver went 0-for-7 from behind the arc — he had good looks but just none of them fell for him. But, despite his poor shooting, his presence on the court changes so much for the Celtics on the defensive end. Not only do they have to deploy one of their best perimeter defenders, but if a screen frees up Korver, the Celtics have to send a guy over to cover him. This opens up the floor for the Hawks.
There’s one clip from last night where Avery Bradley loses Korver, and he shouts — with a hint of urgency — “Help me, Amir!”, hoping Amir Johnson will meet Korver on the perimeter. Johnson answers Bradley’s call, but this leaves Paul Millsap open and Teague finds him for the layup.
I know some Hawks fans have been coy on Korver this season due to his decreased shooting percentages, but he’s one of the few perimeter players who is able to help his team/create a different dynamic on the offense end even when he’s not shooting well. He didn’t even have to shoot the ball for the Hawks to score on this possession, he just ran.
Lack of bench help
Where would the Hawks be without Mike Scott last night? Down 0-1 in the series, for sure.
Scott was the only bench player who made any sort of offensive contribution last night. He scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting (making his first six) and hit two of the Hawks’ five total three-pointers. He also barrelled Marcus Smart over in the first half and was slapped with a flagrant foul for doing so.
While Scott was able to make a significant contribution off of the bench, the rest of the bench bombed. Dennis Schröder (0-of-6), Mike Muscala (who only played four minutes anyways), Tim Hardaway Jr. (0-of-2 in eight minutes) were all scoreless off the bench. Although Thabo Sefolosha only scored two points, he was able to make a contribution on the defensive end.
Schröder, in particular, struggled off of the bench. The Hawks offense just looked a little lost while he was on the floor, and he wasn’t able to get anything going for himself or anyone else. He just wan’t able to leave his imprint on this game. To be fair though, he didn’t just settle for three-point/jump shots. He did try put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, but got rejected on both occasions by Amir Johnson. That’s better than just bricking jump shots.
The bench will have to be better in Game 2, as another 14 point night from Mike Scott is not something you should bet your house on.
The NBA’s new hustle stats
For this year’s playoffs, the NBA are introducing a new category of stats that, mostly, measure defensive impact — hustle stats. Stats measured include: screen assists, deflections, loose balls recovered, charges drown, and contested shots (two and three-pointers). Here are the Hawks’ hustle stat splits from last night.
Look at Al Horford’s splits. 17 shot contests, six deflections, two screen assists, and two loose balls recovered. These are the kind of stats that will help highlight the impact players like Horford and Millsap (and someone like Marcin Gortat, just to give another example) who are sometimes overlooked because they don’t block 17 shots a game.