If there is one thing Danny Ainge is adding to his offseason wish list, it's a guy that can hit some shots early and ignite the Celtics offense. Once again, Boston just couldn't get out of their own way offensively, and they were completely dominated in the first half, just like every other game over the last week. It was obvious right from the start that Atlanta was going to play at their pace and dictate play, and for some odd reason, it took the Celtics an entire half to start asserting their will.
That doesn't work in the playoffs.
Boston got outclassed in the first quarter, allowing 30 points and not looking like the team they were in 15-16. The second quarter was pretty ugly too, and the Hawks held a 51-34 lead at the half. The Celtics just can't seem to find the tempo they played with for four months, and now they're going to have to find it without their best overall player, shooting guard Avery Bradley. Bradley, when the Celtics were about to take over the game, came up lame with a bad hamstring strain, and the reports that have come out today are saying he is done for at least this series.
Isaiah Thomas finished the night with 27 points, eight assists, and only three turnovers, but he was 8-21 from the field and finished minus six for the night, which is not good for one of the team's best players. Thomas was much better in the second half, there is no questioning that, but he needs to start having more overall consistent nights in the playoffs if Boston expects to compete with Atlanta. Avery Bradley had 18 points, three assists, and was locking up Jeff Teague in the second half before he "felt a pop" in his hamstring and had to be helped from the floor by teammates and trainers.
With the injury to Bradley, Teague started to get hot and allowed the Hawks to stay in the game after they had blown the lead in the fourth quarter. If Bradley doesn't get hurt, who knows what happens last night, but the reality is that he did get injured and now the Celtics are going to have to rework their rotation to try and fill his void. Jae Crowder was his typical active self, picking up 14 points and 10 rebounds, Crowder struggled big-time from the field though, shooting 5-16 overall and 2-7 from three point land. If he isn't hitting shots at a higher percentage, Boston is typically in trouble.
One of the most frustrating things about last nights lost is how bad Boston was in the first half compared to how good they were in the second. They were getting beat to every 50-50 ball, giving up offensive rebounds, and there just wasn't the energy needed to compete in the playoffs. Then they come out for the second half, they make up 10 points in the third quarter alone, even the battle on the boards, and they still lost the game. If you were to look at this game with just the stats and not see the final score, one would think that Boston won, but when you take 102 shots and only make 37 of them, it's awful hard to win a game.
The Hawks didn't have an special formula, they just won the game with their starters. Al Horford quietly went about his business like always with 24 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocked shots. Kent Bazemore continued to torture Boston, scoring 23 points and adding eight rebounds. Paul Millsap (14 points, seven rebounds) was a man possessed in the first half, but the Celtics controlled him in the second half. Kyle Korver, another player that has been known to kill the Celtics, only scored two points on the night, so Boston clearly had a plan for him. Mike Scott was the one Hawk bench player that really stepped it up, scoring 14 points and securing five rebounds in just 18 minutes of work.
Game Two is going to be very interesting because not only will Boston have to replace a starter (should be Turner starting) but they'll also need someone on the bench to step up and take on a roll as an offensive facilitator. Marcus Smart had an excellent game last night, so he could be the answer off the bench, but there is no getting around the fact that Bradley will be missed terribly because he's Boston's best all-around player. Can a combination of Turner, Smart, and Rozier make up for Bradley's loss? We shall see Tuesday, and if they can't, Boston may be facing as quick an exit as last year.
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