On Tuesday, the Celtics seized a 2-0 lead in their first-round series against the Hawks with another easy win, this time 119-106.
Here are the key points:
1. Derrick White was a threat again on Tuesday, scoring 26 points on 11-for-16 shooting to go with seven rebounds, two assists, and three blocked shots after scoring 22 points in Game 1. When the Celtics acquired him, the hope was that he would be able to make an outsized impact playing alongside stars like Tatum and Brown, but so far in this series (and for an eye-popping portion of the regular season), White has been something akin to a third star — a reliable 3-point shooter whenever he’s open who can get downhill to the basket when necessary and lock down guards like Hawks’ star Trae Young.
White, along with Marcus Smart, frequently gets the Celtics into their offence early, according to Joe Mazzulla.
“He has the ability to handle, he has the ability to play, and when Smart and Jayson [Tatum] and Jaylen [Brown] are creating advantages for others, and he is a beneficiary of those advantages at times, he does a great job of taking advantage of those,” Mazzulla said.
When White walked to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, Celtics supporters chanted “M-V-P” at him.
“After the game,” Tatum added, “we talked about it.” “He was like, ‘That’s how it feels?’” ‘Yeah, I think.’”
White said that he had gotten substantially more at ease over the season.
“Even during the regular season, JB would say during timeouts, ‘C’mon, D, be aggressive.’” ‘Come on, do your thing,’ White urged. “That’s great to hear from [Brown and Tatum].” They all gave me the confidence to go out there and play my game.”
2. Tatum led the Celtics in scoring with 29, while also dishing out six assists. Late in the game, the Hawks began double in an effort to speed things up, but Tatum in particular handled it effectively and used his passing to reignite the Celtics’ offence.
“His patience in being able to accept that — that allows us to get to our spacing,” Mazzulla said. “And usually, when that happens, there are three 2-on-1s available, and all you have to do is find the right one.”
The Hawks are trying to find a solution to the Tatum problem, particularly because De’Andre Hunter can’t compete with the Celtics’ star one-on-one. Without a credible matchup for Tatum, the Hawks’ defence risks being scrambled as soon as he receives the ball. Given all of the other mismatches on the court, Quin Snyder has yet another tough conundrum to solve.
3. While the Hawks didn’t put up much of a fight in Game 1 or 2, they did outperform the Celtics in numerous critical areas on Tuesday. Most notably, after out-rebounding the Celtics 14-12 on the offensive boards in Game 1, they out-rebounded them 19-5 in Game 2. They also took 48 3-pointers to the Celtics’ 33 (although they only hit one more).
“As good as it feels, we haven’t gotten better in two games because we aren’t controlling the shot margin as well as we should,” Mazzulla said. “They’re doing an excellent job of taking away our threes while unleashing their guys and taking more.” So we have to be careful not to give it over, and we’re doing a fantastic job of guarding without fouling, but there are still 8-10 rebounds that we could be better at.”
4. Despite relatively quiet offensive performances, the Celtics’ big men had an effect. Al Horford proceeded to space Clint Capela near the 3-point line and was the receiver of this bullet feed from Jayson Tatum, burying a three that effectively ended the game.
“I threw it angry because I was trying to get it there,” Tatum said. I attempted to get it there in time for him to take a nice shot.”
Meanwhile, although Robert Williams missed his first shot of the series in the first half, he was outstanding for the second straight game, impacting attempts near the rim and scooping up defensive boards on an evening when the Celtics battled to stop Hawks possessions. Williams had eight points, five rebounds, and two blocked shots as part of a balanced Celtics scoring effort that defeated the Hawks in the paint 64-40. Having him healthy for around 25 minutes each game is a huge improvement from last year, when he returned from meniscus surgery early and seemed to be dragging his leg all over the place.
5. Jaylen Brown was ready for Game 2 with a really interesting pair of sneakers. Brown, who ended with 18 points and three steals, departed the game cradling his hand in the second half, but he informed reporters afterwards that he is OK.
6. With Trae Young on the bench, the Hawks were substantially better on Tuesday and made their huge run to reduce the deficit primarily with him on the bench.
Young had another bad shooting effort — 24 points, 9-for-22 shooting, 2-for-8 from 3-point range, five turnovers — and he was once again the Celtics’ main defensive target, ending with a team-low minus-18 in the box score. Clint Capela (minus-5) was the only other Hawks starter to finish in the red.
As a consequence, when Young went to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, Celtics fans greeted him with rousing cries of “overrated.” This is a brutally difficult set for the tiny guard.
7. The Hawks spent a lot of time defensively seeking Sam Hauser in the first half, and it didn’t work well. The Hawks’ offence slowed to a crawl as De’Andre Hunter and Young battled to beat Hauser off the bounce.
Hawks aren’t the first side to clog their offence with the promise of offensive Hauser, and they’re unlikely to be the last, but the results haven’t been promising thus yet.
8. Dejounte Murray’s 13 points and three three-pointers kept the Hawks from getting blown away in the third quarter. Murray moved to the Celtics bench after one shot and looked to start yelling at Joe Mazzulla.
What exactly did he say?
“He just asked how my day was going,” Mazzulla said flatly. “He’s a fantastic kid and a fantastic guy.” I came to know him via a number of individuals in the Spurs organisation, and he was putting on a great show.”
9. The series will now return to Atlanta for the next two games. Game 3 begins at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“We took a great shot from Atlanta tonight,” Brown said. “I think we did a good job of responding by moving the ball. Different players stepped up and made plays, which is exactly what we’ll need in the playoffs. Now that we’re on the road, we have to have that same attitude and strive to be aggressive in a difficult Atlanta atmosphere.”This is a necessary aspect of the trip. Having two games in hand is excellent for taking care of business at home. However, being able to win games on the road will eventually make you a championship squad. So this is the first test, and I’m excited about it.”