In a game that took a backseat to the NFL Draft, and all of the insanity surrounding Laremy Tunsil, the Atlanta Hawks beat the Boston Celtics 102-94 to advance to the second round.
The Hawks came in with a single goal – do not let Isaiah Thomas beat us. Thomas was greeted by multiple defenders every time he came around a pick or drove into the lane. He finished the game with 25 points, but was only 9-24 from the field and 1-7 from deep.
Atlanta’s defense was stout, blocking 12 shots and holding Boston to 36 percent from the field on the night. A lot of the Celtics shooting woes were a result of missed three pointers from players who did not look comfortable taking wide open shots.
This game exposed the Celtics’ fatal flaw – a lack of shooting in their offense. With Thomas getting so much defensive attention, it was up to players like Jae Crowder (5-15), Evan Turner (4-17) and Marcus Smart (4-11) to pick up the slack. There comes a point when too much can be asked out of role players, and as much as I like the guys I mentioned above, you can’t count on any of them to carry an offense over an extended period. The Hawks were aware of this, and devised their entire game plan around forcing the Celts offense to overextend.
The Hawks did a great job of moving the ball around on offense. Six players scored in double figures, and Atlanta finished the night shooting over 50 percent from the field. The combination of Korver’s shooting, Teague’s driving and the ultra solid duo of Millsap and Hortford proved to be too much for Boston. The Hawks were able to get and convert open looks on a more regular basis than the Celtics.
As Boston goes into the off season armed with with the Nets and Mavericks first round pick as well as four second rounders, the mission will be to make a deal for a second playmaker. As great as Isaiah Thomas has been, he is more suited to be a microwave shooter who can come off the bench and wreak havoc on opposing teams’ second units than a starter. Thomas is not a guy you want to have carry a team offensively as well as guard starting quality opposition. The Celtics GM, Danny Ainge has done a brilliant job of assembling this core of great young players, and is not afraid of making a big move to to put his team into championship contention.
As much as it pains me to say this being a Lakers fan, the Celtics are most promising young team in the NBA. While they lack the big name stars of a Timberwolves or Trail Blazers, they are organizationally in a place to be competitive for the foreseeable future. There are no certainties in the NBA, but Ainge has seemingly done the improbable in rebuilding a franchise from top to bottom in less than three years.
The Hawks will move on and try to slay the dragon that is the Cleveland Cavaliers in round two. Game one will take place in Cleveland on Monday night. There are a lot of intriguing match-ups to consider in this series. Will the Hawks try to throw the bigger Millsapp on LeBron James, or will they unleash their junk yard dog, DeMare Carroll on the King. Can Bazemore stay in front of the increasingly lethal Kryie Irving, or will the Hawks turn to another option to keep the Cavs version of Isaiah Thomas from torching them. I will look at this series closer on Monday, but for now congratulations to Atlanta for beating one hell of a feisty team in the Boston Celtics.
Tonight we get three games. The Pacers look to stave off elimination at home agains the Raptors, in a game that will air on NBA TV and ESPN News (?). The Miami Heat will try to find their offense, which has been M.I.A. in the last couple of game agains the Charlotte Hornets. That game starts at 7:00 PM CT on ESPN. The night cap is between Portland and LA, as the Trail Blazers look to finish off the M.A.S.H. Unit that are the Clippers. I don’t know about everybody else, but I am ready to get into the second round where the match-ups become a lot more interesting, and we can shed some of these teams that are fatally flawed.