Are the Hawks this good – or the Celtics that bad?

Atlanta Hawks Kyle Korver, (26) Al Horford (15) and Kent Bazemore, right, triple team Boston Celtics Marcus Smart during the first half of an NBA playoff basketball game Tuesday, April 19, 2016, in Atlanta. ( Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) MARIETTA DAILY OUT; GWINNETT DAILY POST OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; WXIA-TV OUT; WGCL-TV OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

“DEE-fense! (Clap, clap.) DEE-fense!” ( Curtis Compton/AJC)

And so we ask: Are the Atlanta Hawks this good, or have the Boston Celtics, who are down two men and two games, this bad? The Hawks were great on defense in Game 2 — they won 89-72, the entirety of that margin having been forged in a historic first quarter — but that wasn’t the same as being simply great.

“The outplayed us in every category that first quarter,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, telling no lies. “That was one team playing at an elite level and another team not.”

The Hawks led 24-3 after 6 1/2 minutes. They wouldn’t score again in the quarter. They led 43-28 at the half having gone scoreless over their final seven possessions of the second quarter. Their defense was so unyielding — and Boston’s offense so discombobulated — that there was never a chance the Hawks would blow this 15-point halftime advantage the way they wasted the 17-point lead in Saturday’s Game 1. Then again, the Celtics had Avery Bradley for most of that night.

The Celtics were overmatched, talent-wise, coming into the series. Without Bradley and now Kelly Olynyk, this really isn’t a 4-vs.-5 series. It’s more like a regular-season game between the Warriors and the 76ers. (OK, that’s overstating, but not by much.) Stevens was reduced to deploying R.J. Hunter, the rookie from Georgia State, for more than 14 minutes Tuesday, and here we saw why Hunter played in only 36 of 82 regular-season games. He’s not ready yet.

In 14 minutes and 40 seconds, Hunter didn’t have a point or a rebound or an assist. He took three shots, all jumpers. Two were blocked. He was a Round 1 pick and could well be a useful player in time. That time wasn’t Game 2 of a playoff series on the road.

Let’s not pick on R.J. Every Boston player was outclassed. Jae Crowder missed eight of nine shots. Marcus Smart, starting in Bradley’s stead, missed 10 of 11. Isaiah Thomas missed 11 of 15 and had more turnovers than assists. The Celtics as a team mustered seven first-quarter points, marking the post-shot-clock low for any playoff quarter in team history and the worst first-quarter output in NBA playoff annals.

Still, the Hawks couldn’t quite put the Celtics away until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, which is why it’s hard to wrap this effort in golden robes of greatness. The Hawks made only 39 percent of their shots. They had 15 turnovers. They were outscored in the lane by a team that has no quality low-post players.

The defense was terrific, yes. The Hawks blocked 15 shots, a franchise playoff record. The Celtics contributed mightily, though, by over-penetrating and by missing 23 of 28 trey tries, a failing that enabled the Hawks to clog the lane. (It also helped that the refs — who seemed to call it the same way on both ends — whistled only 31 fouls in 48 minutes. Being the smaller team, the C’s need some calls.)

“Tonight had a different feel than the other night,” Stevens said. “Tonight it never felt as if we were at their level.”

That might be more than a feeling. It might well be reality. Without Bradley, the Celtics have nobody to guard Jeff Teague. Without Olynyk, they’re down to two rotational players taller than 6-foot-9 — and those two are Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller, neither of whom is to be confused with Dave Cowens, neither of whom even starts.

Coming into the series, the feeling here was that the Celtics could hang close so long as they revved the tempo and made shots and defended like crazy. That formula — on Saturday, they made shots late if not early — nearly stole Game 1. Now it feels as if that might have been a one-off.

The Celtics shoot a slew of 3-pointers — they were 11th in attempts over the regular season — because they’re small. They’re also bad shooters. They ranked 28th among the league’s 30 teams in 3-point percentage. In this series, they’re 16 for 63, which is 25.4 percent, which is awful. Crowder has missed nine of his 11 treys, which makes you think he should stop shooting. But what’s the alternative?

Add it up — no low-post game, their best 3-point shooter (Bradley) gone for the series, their depth depleted to its nub — and there’s not much the Celtics can do except defend and hope the Hawks miss. The Hawks missed 50 of 82 shots Tuesday and won by 17 points. Figure Game 3 will be tougher, given that it’s in Boston, but even a parquet floor mightn’t be enough to close this sudden manpower gap. And if the Hawks win Game 3, there probably won’t be a Game 5.

If they keep guarding like this — and, seeing as how they were second in the NBA in defensive efficiency, there’s no reason to believe they wont — the Hawks will make it tough on any opponent. But it’s hard to imagine they’ll face another team in these playoffs as weak as Boston has become.

A plethora of playoff reading:

The Hawks look too good for the Celtics.

With Boston down a guard, the Hawks must keep their guard up.

Boston’s best hope lies with baby-faced Brad Stevens.

For a half, the Hawks went whoosh. At the end, they said, “Whew.”

The Hawks hold on to win Game 1, if barely.

The Hawks’ mission: Another shot at LeBron.

An underwhelming Hawks’ regular season ends with a thud.

Reader Comments 0

27 comments
Ankit Kumar
Ankit Kumar

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Jboudrot
Jboudrot

They look good but the Celtics are average at best when fully manned. Hawks don't get past round 2

DawgNole
DawgNole

Hawks this good?

Won't know 'til we see how they perform in Boston.

tyger
tyger

"...kill a mosquito with an axe." - Jake Gaither


Hawks sweep Celtics...

For nothing more than ego...

Like varsity scrimmaging JV...


Need confidence high for next rd...

The Lebrons have their number...


A confident, locked-in Hawks might...

Just might, shock the world...


Note: Boston had 3-4 1st rd. picks...

76ers picked 1st 3 years straight...

Conclusion: NBA draft fool's gold...

Will Bolden
Will Bolden

Who cares, as long as we get to the 2nd round quickly with no injuries.

SAAN
SAAN

Lets enjoy this 1st round, because the Hawks have not played well vs Miami, Toronto, or Cleveland all season, and will not fare well against them until Horford/Milsap grows some balls and goes and bangs down low and stop shooting so many jumpers.


Maybe we can have one of our bench players dive into Lebron's ankle as a little payback from last year for Matthew Dellavedova injuring Kyle Korver.

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

The Hawks looked good last night despite their pitiful offense after the first quarter. This team is so much fun to watch. So many interchangeable parts - true team basketball - and when they are hitting on all cylinders, they are truly great at it. Someone always steps up, on offense or defense. And the ability to win, even when your offense is not going so great is the sign of a true NBA play off contender. 


The other sign of a  true NBA play off contender is the presence of at least one bona fide super star. Two is better, but one is enough if there is strong support. And the current Hawks configuration would definitely provide excellent support for a bona fide super star. 


Team NBA basketball if terrific, and again, lots of fun to watch, but when the Hawks run into Cleveland it will be all over for just one reason, and one reason only. King James is on that team (and there are a couple of other nearly true super stars there with him, and a good support configuration). 


Each time it becomes necessary, King James (as have all super stars now playing and those who have gone before him) will put the Cavaliers on his back and bring them across the finish line first. We have seen it happen before, and it will happen again. Only a team with an equally true super star(s) (e.g. the Warriors) can beat him. 


This is because of two things. True NBA super stars cannot be stopped when it comes down to nut cutting time. They are just that good. And secondly, and almost just as importantly, the team support they receive, are the Jordan Rules. 


In the tight situations in the big games - and even the lion's share of close regular season games, the super stars get every call. All fouls called are on their behalf, and they never get fouls called on them, no matter what they do on defense. 


This is not fantasy. This can be easily documented with film from hundreds, thousands? of game films e.g. in the very close last Hawks - Cavaliers game, King James was driving to the basket and he stepped on Sefalosha's foot and fell down. Of course, Sefalosha was called for a foul. We will see a whole lot of that in tight situations when the Hawks meet the Cavaliers again. 


There is no one with enough stature on the Hawks team to get that kind of special treatment. It is the one off-putting thing about watching NBA play off games, but it has been going on since Michael Jordan suited up, and the leagues seems content to let it continue.  


Why? Money. The NBA knows that fans want to watch super stars play. The Hawks don't have any. The fans want another Warriors - Cavaliers match up. As they say. Money talks. BS walks. 

Sidslid
Sidslid

Paul Millsap is fast becoming this decade's Joe Johnson in playoff productivity.  Heinsohn could say put a body in the arena, and Millsap disappears.

Lorenzo Alsobrooks
Lorenzo Alsobrooks

The second round will tell the truth. If the Hawks had beating Washington on the last night of the regular season, they would've avoided Cleveland until at least the conference finals. The Celtics are a team on the rise, but the Hawks are a veteran team, so the Hawks will win in 5, if not a sweep.

John A Gomez
John A Gomez

Man, Atlanta sports writers love to bash the hometown teams

Scott Linton
Scott Linton

We will see how good the Hawks are in the 2nd round of the Playoffs.

Gabriel Blessed
Gabriel Blessed

Am a Hawks fan and I knew we were better than the Celtic. But teams like the cavs and Raptors for some reason we can't beat. But answer your Question The Celtics are bad.

Peyton Waylon
Peyton Waylon

The Celtics aren't bad. They were the first team to beat the defending champions Golden State Warriors at their home court. The Celtics have a good young team and they will also have a few good drafts soon.

Nowayjose9
Nowayjose9

Hawks have no change against Cleveland because the refs give James all the calls and never call anything against him. That was evident on Sunday

MoreyP
MoreyP

the celtics are terrible---ATL wins this series in 5 and pulls the upset in round 2!

Sheikh Faisal
Sheikh Faisal

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bigern73
bigern73

@MarkBradleyAJC Hawks can play bad and win against Celtics. Hawks won't have that luxury against Cavs.