For the second Friday in a row, the Celtics lost at home to a good offensive team. Last week, the Phoenix Suns came to Boston and gave the Celtics their first loss of the season. This week it was the Atlanta Hawks. Coming into the came, the Hawks are among the league leaders in FG%, shooting 48%. Only two other teams have a higher average, the Celtics at 50% and the Suns at 49%. Celtics vs. Hawks has become one of the better rivalries in the Eastern Conference. Two seasons ago, the Hawks and Celts battled for 7 games and the Celts ultimately one the series and went on to win the championship. Last night, the Hawks played with a sense of urgency. They wanted the win more.
Right from the opening tip off, it was clear the Hawks came to play. They shot lights out to start the game. Leading the way was their best offensive player, Joe Johnson. Johnson has quietly become one of the best offensive players in the league. Originally drafted by the Celtics 10th overall in the 2001 draft. He definitely had talent when he entered the league, but was a raw player. Now he plays a more controlled game. He can hit shots from anywhere on the court. He has a good outside shot. He can elevate over defenders to hit mid range jumpers, something he did against Ray Allen a couple of times. Johnson can take it to the hoop as well. More importantly, he can hit all of these shots when the game is on the line.
The Hawks jumped to an early lead, but the Celtics answered back with shots coming from Pierce and Garnett. At the end of the first quarter, Hawks 24 Celtics 22. The second quarter had more of the same. Back and forth both teams went and the Celtics took the lead with a Rasheed Wallace 3 pointer. Both teams shot well from the field. However, what killed the Celtics were the offensive rebounds. The Celtics played good team defense for 15-20 seconds, but the Hawks created second chances with their offensive rebounds. The one thing the Celts couldn't do was give a good offensive team more chances to score. Going into the half, the Celtics held to a slim lead, Celtics 42 Hawks 41.
At the start of the 3rd quarter, it was all Celtics. This year, Boston has been great in the 3rd quarter. And just when it looked like they would put some distance between them and the Hawks, the Hawks answered back. The Hawks were down by 8 points, but showed a lot of poise by climbing back into the game. Once they took the lead, they never looked back. Offensive rebounding created more chances for the Hawks and was the story of the game. The Hawks stretched their lead in the 4th quarter with play from Joe Johnson and their 6th man, Jamal Crawford. Johnson would finish with 24 points and Crawford gave the Hawks 18 points off the bench. In the 4th, the Celtics were within 6 points with 2 minutes to go in the game. KG gave up 2 points in order to pass the ball to a wide open Rasheed Wallace beyond the arc. Unfortunately, Sheed front rimmed the shot and the Hawks came up with the rebound. The crowd exited the building right after. The Hawks won the game 97 to 86, handing the Celtics their second loss of the season.
The Celtics were out rebounded 47 to 23. The Hawks would finish with 16 offensive rebounds and 20 second chance points. Not going to win many games with a box score like that. The boards gave the Celtics the most trouble. The Hawks crashed the boards while the Celtics stood flat footed waiting for the ball to come to them. There is nothing more frustrating than watching your team play good defense, create a missed shot, but not get the rebound.
The Celtics second loss brings up some concern. The two losses were against good, athletic offensive teams which may create match up problems for the Celts in the future. Plus, both losses were at home. Not good. This is the first game of the year where the Celtics were beat for 4 quarters straight. Things are not going to get easier for the C's. They have a tough game ahead. They had to travel to Indiana in the middle of the night to play the Pacers Saturday night. They will have to dig deep and muster the energy they will need to take care of the Pacers. The Celtics will be back in the gym for a few days. Next game will be at home Wednesday night against Golden State.
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Written by johnw