The Hawks had a fantastic opportunity last night to prove to the world that they are legitimate contenders, playing on national television against the top-seeded 11-3 Celtics. Unfortunately, the more experienced group — even short-handed — made the most of what they do well and took advantage of the Hawks’ most glaring weaknesses.
Atlanta started the game off ice cold, scoring just 18 points in the first quarter. There was a lid on the basket at every level, as the Celtics opened up a 12-point lead. That lead continued to grow in the second, but the Hawks did an admirable job of fighting back and cut the lead to just six before Payton Pritchard knocked down another three before the buzzer. That would be a theme for the entire night.
While the Celtics two superstars were actually rather quiet — they combined for just 41 points and were 4-16 from three-point land — Boston’s supplementary pieces tore Atlanta’s defense to shreds. Grant Williams had 18 points and knocked down four shots from deep. Sam Hauser added 15 points, all of which came on three-pointers, and Pritchard also finished with 14 points on four threes.
What’s even scarier is the Celtics bench did that, and they were without their top two point guards in Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon. Now, Williams, Hauser, and Pritchard aren’t always going to shoot that lights out, but this game painted the perfect picture of the levels between these two teams. Both the Hawks and Celtics are stout at the top, but Boston’s depth and shooting will outclass Atlanta every night. If Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, John Collins, and De’Andre Hunter aren’t all outplaying their counterparts, this will always be a difficult matchup for the Hawks to win. It’s painful to say, but that’s the difference between contenders and pretenders, and right now, Atlanta is the latter.
Photographer: Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire