In what was a defensive — and at times ugly — affair the Atlanta Hawks triumphed (89-72) over the Boston Celtics to take Game 2 and, with it, a 2-0 series lead in the first round. Kyle Korver and Al Horford both notched 17 points for the Hawks, while Isaiah Thomas led the way with 16 points for the Celtics.
First quarter blitz
In the last few games before the playoffs began, and Game 1 of this series, the Boston Celtics have been known to start the game off very slowly and this has left themselves facing an uphill battle from the very early stages of the game. That trend continued in Game 2, as the Hawks bolted out of the gates to take a 24-3 lead in the first seven minutes, eventually ending the first quarter with a 24-7 advantage (despite not scoring in the final 5:28).
The two teams would score the exact same number of points in the final three periods (65) so, in the end, the difference in this game was the first quarter. There were a few reasons why the Hawks blitzed the Celtics in the first quarter, let’s start with the Hawks defense, which fuelled everything else and set the tone for the rest of the game.
This was one of the first defensive possessions of the game. The Celtics try to run their offense, and it ends up with Jae Crowder attempting to get the ball over to Marcus Smart. Kent Bazemore reads the play, picks off the pass, and gets out in the open floor. He turns down the option to set up Kyle Korver and gets the friendly toilet rim roll on his three-point attempt.
Setting the defensive tone early with a steal and transition three, that’s how you want to start a game. Atlanta turning defense into offense.
The Celtics got themselves a favorable mismatch with Paul Millsap guarding Isaiah Thomas on this possession. To help his teammate, Horford leaves Sullinger to cut off Isaiah’s path to the rim. To help Al, Korver leaves Evan Turner to cover Horford’s man, Jared Sullinger. The Hawks were perfectly fine leaving the likes of Evan Turner, Marcus Smart, and Amir Johnson open behind the three-point line, and Korver leaving Turner to help Horford speaks to this. If that was Avery Bradley in the corner, this would be a different story.
Eventually, this play ends up with Thomas giving the ball up to Turner in the corner, who find an open Marcus Smart who misses on the three.
Good defensive sequence, you don’t allow a Thomas layup attempt, force him to give the rock over to someone else, and end with a 24% three-point shooter taking a three.
Another example of defense turning into offense. Marcus Smart attacks the rim, has his shot rejected by Paul Millsap, and the rebound is collected by Horford. Straight away you can see Kent Bazemore and Kyle Korver bolt down the court, giving Horford the opportunity to start a fast break. Horford finds Bazemore with the outlet pass, who draws all of the Boston defenders’ (who could get back in time) attention as he charges toward the rim. As he does that, Korver gets to his spot on the wing, waiting for Bazemore to find him. He obliges, and Korver knocks down the three.
Again, defense leading to offense played a huge part in the Hawks’ early run.
Here, Isaiah Thomas tries to push the ball down the court with pace right at Jeff Teague. We’ve seen this song and dance before in the regular season, and it resulted in Teague stealing the ball and converting the pivotal ‘and one’ afterward. The result on this occasion has a hint of similarity to it — Teague steals the ball and Thomas is called for a foul.
You’re denying Thomas and the Celtics to set up their offense by forcing the turnover. Good defense by Teague to come up with the steal.
Another key to the Hawks’ strong defensive showing in first quarter was getting back in transition. Here, Evan Turner pushes the ball up the floor with intent, following a miss from Teague. Turner finds Thomas behind the three-point line and his shot is blocked by Thabo Sefolosha, who does a great job sticking close to Thomas and challenging the shot.
The Celtics shot 3-of-23 in the first quarter. If your eyes are sensitive to very graphic images, you should probably look away now, as we’re going to look at Boston’s first quarter shot chart.
Yikes… What an ugly quarter. 1-of-12 around the rim, with help from six first quarter blocks from the Hawks.
What also contributed to Atlanta’s amazing first quarter was the scorching Kyle Korver, who shot 4-of-5 from behind the arc in the first quarter.
Crushing defense, defense turning into fast break offense, and a Kyle Korver shooting clinic… That’s a recipe for disaster, and a disaster it was for the Celtics.
“They way outplayed us in every category in that first quarter. That wasn’t just about (failing to make) shots by any means. I thought that was one team playing at a very elite level and one team not, to be quite candid.” — Coach Brad Stevens
“It’s like the same thing’s happened over and over. I think coach said six out of (the last) seven games we’ve started like that, so it’s become a bit frustrating. I’m willing to do whatever it is to change. I don’t know what we have to do but we have to change something. Six out of seven games starting slow like that? That’s inexcusable.” — Jae Crowder
“I think the way our group started tonight was something that is a credit to our players…” — Coach Mike Budenholzer
Kyle Korver is hoping the Hawks can continue their positive start to quarters as the series continues.
“We’ve been talking a lot about a 48-minute game. The beginning is part of that 48 minutes. We’ve gotten off to some pretty great leads in this series in the first quarter. We’d like to keep that going.” — Kyle Korver
Kyle Korver’s three-point explosion
Picture Avery Bradley as a bunch of chains shackled upon Korver… That’s Korver’s Game 1 in a nutshell — shackled. But Game 2 arrived, and this time there were no chains to hold him…
After going 0-for-7 from distance in Game 1, Korver’s three-ball exploded into life as he went 4-of-5 from behind the arc in the first quarter alone, eventually finishing with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting and 5-of-7 from three.
“We all have pride, right? I wanted to come out and play better the second game. I think I was pretty focused. I knocked down a couple shots early, which was great.” — Kyle Korver
Celtics rookie R.J. Hunter drove Brad Stevens mad on two occasions in the first quarter after he lost Korver twice, leading to two made threes.
“…The only part of the defense that I was upset by was losing (Kyle) Korver a few times and the transition defense…” — Coach Brad Stevens
Stevens also stressed how much he plans for Korver when the Celtics play the Hawks.
“Korver is one of the main things we talk about every time we walk in this building, every time we walk into the hotel, every time we land in Atlanta. We know we have to be in his airspace or else we are toast. You knew coming off a 1-for-10 game he was going to have the hunger to make shots and take shots early on. We talked about that but it was a matter of we lost him a few times.” — Coach Brad Stevens
You can be sure Brad Stevens will come up with some sort of adjustment to prevent Kyle Korver from having the same sort of impact in Game 3.
Celtics missing Avery Bradley already
It’s clear to see how much this team misses Avery Bradley.
On the defensive end, Bradley wouldn’t let Kyle Korver out of his sight, let alone sag off of him as Marcus Smart was guilty of on one occasion last night. If Avery Bradley is playing this game, it’s hard to say whether Korver would’ve had the same impact as he did. But Bradley’s defensive impact didn’t apply to just Korver but Jeff Teague as well, who (at times) had his way with Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas.
Marcus Smart is regarded as a very good defender, and look how easily Teague beat him with this amazing move that I’m still in awe of.
It took a very good move from Teague to get by Smart, but it does not take a lot for him to get past Thomas.
This one (2) was way too easy. Avery Bradley is dying on the bench watching this, I’m sure.
While Horford doesn’t finish the play, how easy was it for Teague to get by Thomas, draw the help defender, and kick back out to a wide open Al Horford?
But it’s not just on the defensive end where the Celtics miss Bradley. One of my concerns heading into this series was who is going to score if Thomas is locked down (as he was last night, 4-of-15 shooting for IT)? That question became much more pressing when Bradley was ruled out for Game 2. And the answer, as it turns out, is no one. The Hawks were more than happy to let Marcus Smart (1-of-11) and an unhealthy Jae Crowder (1-of-9) shoot away.
Zach Lowe painted the ugly picture in his latest column discussing the loss of Avery Bradley and this Hawks-Celtics series.
Teams with poor shooting can’t expose the Hawks that way. Atlanta buries those teams, and without Bradley, the Celtics go from a so-so shooting team to perhaps the worst one in the league outside Philly and Memphis.
The Celtics are an easy team to shell, doubly so without Bradley. They fit a lot of stuff into every possession — a whir of hand-offs, cuts, and pindowns. Duck under everything, and all the motion amounts to nothing; no Celtic can take the ball within 15 feet of the rim, leaving them desperate. Boston’s mini-rally in the second quarter, which was kind of like a swimmer barely avoiding getting lapped, came mostly on the back of Turner mid-rangers and Johnson post-up junkballing. That is not sustainable on the team level. Sneaking under a screen for Bradley at least carries some risk.
The Hawks can afford to go under every single screen, except ones that involve Isaiah Thomas, now that Bradley is out. The Celtics will need a combination of poor Atlanta shooting and some of their own to majorly step up if they are to have chance of winning Game 3 on Friday night.
Millsap and Bazemore’s offensive struggles
After combining for 37 points on 13-of-24 shooting in Game 1, both Bazemore and Millsap struggled to find any offensive rhythm in Game 2, combining for nine points on 3-of-26 shooting.
In the build up to Game 2, Isaiah Thomas began stirring the pot with this comment.
“Guys like that”… I thought that might get Bazemore really upset at that comment and we’d get a monster Baze game but, alas, it was not to be.
Fortunately for the Celtics, they were able to limit not only Bazemore but Millsap too, who has attracted a lot of attention so far in this series.
“Every time I catch the ball, I’m seeing a lot of bodies. The key for me is not to force. Take what the give me. Other guys are doing a great job. Al is doing a good job of reading. Kyle got some good looks and that’s great to see. If I have to struggle for our team to win, so be it.”
“It says that we are a team, pretty much. Not my best shooting games. But it’s not about just one person. It’s about this whole team, what everybody brings to the table. That’s what a team is for.” — Paul Millsap
Millsap’s lack of scoring involvement hasn’t been too much of a problem as Al Horford has been so steady, and that’s the problem for the Celtics — they can’t stop both Millsap and Horford. To deprive Millsap of scoring opportunities only opens up more for Horford, and visa-versa.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Celtics start clamping down (or at least attempting to) more on Horford heading into Friday’s pivotal Game 3.
Hawks invite Celtics to a block party
What a game for Dikembe Mutombu to attend. The Hawks recorded a franchise playoff record of 15 blocked shots last night. The Celtics shot just 36% around the rim, the league average is about 50%.
(What a perfect video thumbnail, by the way)
Al Horford led the way with five blocks while Paul Millsap added another four. In fact, seven different Hawks recorded at least one block.
Jae Crowder is not OK
Jae Crowder came into this series with an ankle that was not 100% healed. After Game 1, Brad Stevens commented on where Crowder’s ankle is at.
“Seventy-five (percent) probably, 80 (percent). Somewhere in there. Not 100.” — Coach Brad Stevens
“Like I said before there’s still some stuff I’m capable of doing which I can’t do now. But it is what it is. I’m able to play with it and I’m able to fight through it, and I’ll be fine.” — Jae Crowder
It’s clear to see Crowder is not OK. And when he’s not healthy, he’s a very ordinary player. He has struggled — at times — defensively and has struggled — nearly all of the time — on the offensive end, as last night’s 1-of-9 shooting game showed. Take a look at this play.
Twice in this possession is Crowder is matched up against Tim Hardaway Jr. Crowder has the size and muscular advantage on Hardaway, who would not stand a chance defending in the post against Crowder. Instead, he gives up the ball twice, not even considering the possibility. I think a Crowder back-down on Hardaway would be more effective than a Tyler Zeller back-down on Mike Muscala, but maybe that’s just me.
Crowder’s reluctance to even consider backing down or attacking Hardaway says a lot as to where he’s really at.