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The Boston Celtics host the Atlanta Hawks for Game Two in the Eastern Conference Playoffs Monday on the back of a 112-99 win Saturday.
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The Celtics pounced on the Hawks from the opening jump in Game One. They led by 10 points at the end of the first quarter and by 30 at halftime and were able to coast to an easy victory despite the somewhat-close final score.
The key for the Celtics was their five-out approach that had every member of the offense stationed somewhere on the perimeter. That neutralized the Hawks’ help defense and severely reduced the impact of big man Clint Capela, whose 21 rebounds against the Miami Heat in the play-in tournament were pivotal in his team emerging victorious.
The Hawks adapted in the second half, and Capela ended up playing the fewest minutes of all the starters. They ended the game shooting only 38.8% from the field and 17.2% from outside which made their second-half performance encouraging. If they hit their shots earlier on, they will certainly not face another 30-point deficit in this series.
Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Derrick White combined for 78 points and all scored at least 24 in Game One on a combined 49.2% shooting. Brown and Tatum also had 12 and 11 rebounds, while White and Marcus Smart pitched in with seven assists apiece. Robert Williams, who rarely featured during the regular season because of injury, was a perfect 6-6 from the field and had 12 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes.
On the other side, Atlanta’s only player with a decent box score was Dejounte Murray, who finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Trae Young was held to an inefficient 16 points on 5-18 shooting with eight assists and five turnovers.
Eight of the Hawks’ nine players that featured in Game One had a negative plus-minus box score. Seven of the Celtics’ eight, conversely, were in the positive.
The Celtics have all of the momentum and also the cockiness that comes from applying proof of concept which, in this case, is that they are a better team than the Hawks.
Atlanta fans can take solace in the fact that they were supposed to lose Game One. The Celtics had a few days’ extra rest and were playing at home, where they had a joint-Eastern Conference-best record of 32-9.
At the same time, the Hawks only went 17-24 on the road in the regular season and have now lost six straight games (dating back to February 2022) against Boston. They also don’t seem to have the defensive personnel to match up with the Celtics’ perimeter players throughout a seven-game series and depend heavily on Capela to capture rebounds, which he is less effective at doing when stationed on the perimeter.
The Celtics’ path to victory comes from them doing more of what they did in the first half of Game One. Exploiting the defensive limitations of the Hawks, specifically with their ability to score out of isolation and also by collapsing the paint to find open shooters on the wing.
Brown leading the team in scoring could also be a sign of what is to come. De’Andre Hunter, the team’s best and most versatile, was assigned to Tatum, leaving Murray on an island with the Celtics’ two-guard. Although Murray is certainly a capable defender, he is shorter and lighter than Brown and is more of a quick-handed lane-disruptor than a physical one-on-one stopper.
The Hawks will need to take and make more three-pointers to have a hope of winning Game Two. The Celtics attempted the second-most three-pointers per game and, despite shooting well under their average, still outscored the Hawks from long range. That creates a simple math problem for an Atlanta team that has been encouraged to let it fly by newly-appointed coach Quin Snyder.
Young will also need to be at his absolute best to be able to go toe-to-toe with the Celtics’ two superstars. Another 16 and eight nights simply won’t cut it, no matter what his teammates do.
Boston should win Game Two and take a 2-0 advantage in the series but expect a better effort from the Hawks. They got their wits about them in the second half of Game One and have streaky shooters that just need to make their first shot to stay hot for an entire game.
Ultimately, the 10.5-point spread is just a little too much here. Take the Hawks to cover and, in a bold play, consider a parlay of the Celtics’ moneyline for increased value (but at greater risk).
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