The Boston Celtics appeared to be in total control in their first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, but suffered a surprising 130-122 loss in Game 3. The Celtics still have the upper hand, but they will have a bit of added motivation to come out and regain full control of this series in Game 4 on Sunday.
Considering how the C’s still dropped 122 points in this game, it’s safe to say they played well enough to win, at least on offense. Defensively, they were still OK, but Atlanta just could not miss; the Hawks hit 56 percent of their shots in Game 3, and while some of that is due to Boston having a worse-than-usual outing on defense, chances are Atlanta won’t be able to accomplish that in Game 4 again after they shot a combined 40.7 percent from the floor in Games 1 and 2.
Of course, you can’t just assume that will happen, and Atlanta will be hyped up as they look to tie this series at two in front of their home fans. That’s why it’s important for Boston to come back from a tough loss and show just why they are a level ahead of Atlanta. So if they intend on accomplishing that, let’s take a look at the two keys to victory for the Celtics in Game 4 against the Hawks.
2. Celtics must continue to attack the paint
The Celtics started this game on fire from behind the arc, and they finished the game shooting 21-48 as a team on threes. The problem is that only six of those makes came in the second half, and when Boston’s shots stopped falling, their offense failed to get back to what had made them so successful early on in this series.
In Games 1 and 2, Boston was getting whatever they wanted in the paint. With Al Horford on the floor, Clint Capela was getting stuck at the perimeter, and without their best shot blocker in the paint, Atlanta had no answer for Boston in the paint. In Game 3, Atlanta didn’t really find a solution to this problem, but they didn’t have to because the Celtics just kept chucking up threes.
In Game 4, there needs to be an initiative to get the ball back into the paint against this team. Atlanta still has yet to show they can stop Boston in the paint, and while they definitely made an effort to crowd the C’s lanes to the rim, the Celtics were bailing the Hawks out by shooting so many threes. In this series at least, shooting threes makes the most sense for the Celtics when they are at least getting paint touches to open up the perimeter.
We’ve seen early on that there are mismatches all over the floor for Boston; it’s just a matter of whether or not they will take advantage of them. Get Trae Young to switch onto Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown and let them go to work, or find a way to keep Capela occupied at the perimeter and then fire it into the paint. Boston has the advantage in the paint on offense, and they need to begin utilizing it again in Game 4.
1. Celtics have to throw bodies in front of Trae Young on defense
Winning games is also a lot easier when your star player actually plays like a star player. After a horrific showing in Games 1 and 2, Young stepped up for the Hawks in Game 3 (32 PTS, 9 AST, 6 REB, 12-22 FGM) and refused to let them lose this game. Young’s big game is something the Celtics could have easily prevented, though.
Young took this game over in the fourth quarter, when he scored 15 of his 32 points, and he did this by pretty much getting ignored by the Celtics. Young was running simple pick-and-roll actions and facing no resistance as he made his way to the rim. He was getting wide open looks for floaters, which he finally began to hit in Game 3, or easy passes to open teammates.
In Game 4, the Celtics have to make Young’s life more difficult. They succeeded in accomplishing this in the first two games by pressuring Young when he crossed half-court, and forcing him into bad decisions. Young had nowhere to go when Boston was doing this; he was turning the ball over like crazy, and missing shots from all over the floor.
Atlanta had Young play quicker in Game 3, but nobody was really doing anything to stop him either. Whether it’s just staying in front of him, or cutting off passing lanes, Young has to be pressed heavily in Game 4. Marcus Smart and Derrick White will shoulder much of the burden here, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Celtics take the game out of Young’s hands in Game 4. If Boston can silence Young in Game 4, there’s a very good chance they will come out on top.
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