By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Playing in their first road game in almost a week, the Boston Celtics were able to pull out a sloppy yet hard-fought win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night, 123-115.
With both Kemba Walker (knee) and Marcus Smart (thigh) unavailable due to injury, the Celtics turned to a three-pronged attack consisting of Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown. The trio was responsible for 73 of the Celtics 123 points (59.3%). Tatum posted a team-high 28 points on 10-20 shooting. Gordon Hayward wasn’t far behind, chipping in 24 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists. Defending Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jaylen Brown scored 20+ points for the seventh time in his last nine games, contributing 21.
On the defensive end of the floor, the Celtics struggled to contain some of the Hawks young shooters. Trae Young got off to a hot start and ended up with a game-high 34 points. Meanwhile, Kevin Huerter nearly took the game back for the Hawks single handedly late in the contest, he ended up with 23.
Boston’s bench came through Monday night as well. The unit was averaging 28.9 points per game coming in, third worst in the NBA. In Atlanta, they exploded for 41 points, 29 coming from Brad Wanamaker (16) and Grant Williams (13).
The Celtics scored the first five points of the game, but a 9-0 run highlighted by a Trae Young three from the center court logo helped the Hawks climb to a 15-10 lead by the first commercial break.
The Celtics started to rally back sparked by Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown, but another logo three from Young once again halted the C’s momentum. Young had scored 17 in just the first quarter, with Atlanta leading 34-28 after one.
Enes Kanter entered the game early in the second for his first minutes after missing a week and a half with a hip injury. His impact was immediately felt, he posted eight points and five rebounds in his first four minutes on the floor, helping trim the Atlanta lead to just one. Quickly, the Hawks answered with back-to-back threes from Kevin Huerter to jump their lead back to seven.
Brad Wanamaker answered with back-to-back threes of his own. Jayson Tatum followed that with an emphatic one-handed slam to give the Celtics a brief lead following a 9-0 run. Wanamaker was the first Celtic to reach double-figures in the game.
In the final minutes of the first half, Hayward once again took command of the offense, Scoring or assisting on nine of the Celtics final 11 points of the frame. Still, just like in the first matchup, Young and John Collins gave the Celtics fits, with Atlanta taking a 62-60 lead into the break.
Perhaps responding to the tough interior defense from the first half, the Celtics turned to Jayson Tatum mid-range and three point shots to get things going early in the first quarter. He hit three of his first four shots of the half, opening things up for Jaylen Brown to cut to the rim for three straight layups. The Celtics expanded their lead to what at that moment was a game-high nine points, forcing Atlanta to take a timeout with seven and a half minutes left in the third.
On the day Enes Kanter returned, the Celtics faced a scary moment for another big man. Late in the third quarter, Daniel Theis landed awkwardly on his ankle after attempting to block a shot and had to be helped back to the locker room. This comes after a report earlier in the day that he could be involved in a trade that would send Houston Rockets forward Clint Capela to Boston. It was later reported that Theis suffered a sprained ankle, and he returned to the bench.
The Celtics momentarily stumbled without Theis on the floor, but thanks to a strong late push from Tatum were able to hold an 11 point lead, 95-84, heading into the fourth quarter.
After a back-and-forth start to the fourth quarter, the Hawks went on a 15-4 run that cut the Celtics lead to just two. As he had all night, Hayward hit a couple of big shots to give the Celtics back momentum, but the Hawks weren’t done. Kevin Huerter hit back-to-back threes and forced the Celtics to use a timeout up 110-107 with 3:23 to go.
The teams continued to trade basket for basket, but ultimately the Hawks could never overcome the Celtics lead. Late turnovers would cost Atlanta, who managed just five points in the games final 1:38.
With the win, the Celtics improve to 34-15. It’s their fourth win in a row, and seventh in their last nine games. They remain tied with the Heat for third in the Eastern Conference after Miami stomped the Philadelphia 76ers 137-106 Monday night in South Beach.
The Celtics return home Wednesday to take on the 22-28 Orlando Magic. Last time the two teams played, Boston used a 16-point comeback to grab a 109-98 win at the Amway Center. Tip-off for Wednesday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell will be on the call on 105.7 WROR, with pregame coverage beginning at 7.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com