Sometimes all you need is six really good minutes.
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The Atlanta Hawks roared out of the gates on Tuesday, taking the fight right to a Boston Celtics club playing without injured contributors Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk by racing out to a 24-3 lead with 5:28 remaining in the first quarter of Game 2 behind four quick 3-pointers from Kyle Korver:
That, for all intents and purposes, was the ballgame. Neither team consistently generated offense after that point, but the Hawks had already generated enough to give themselves a massive cushion. Atlanta never trailed, and Boston never got the lead under 10 points the rest of the way as the Hawks scored an ugly, grind-it-out 89-72 win to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
It was a truly regrettable way for the Celtics to celebrate such an auspicious day in team history:
Today is a HUGE anniversary...— Pro Hoops History (@ProHoopsHistory) April 20, 2016
20 years ago today, Celtic Pride was released in theaters pic.twitter.com/m8HVzZcgMf
Speaking of history, this is the first time in the long history of the Hawks and Celtics squaring off in the postseason — a history that includes 12 playoff matchups — in which Atlanta has held a 2-0 lead over the guys in green. It's the 10th 2-0 lead overall in Hawks playoff history; they've never lost a series in which they've taken the first two games.
The Celtics have come back from an 0-2 hole before, but ... well, it's been a while:
Celtics have overcome an 0-2 playoff deficit only once - in the 1969 NBA Finals against Lakers.— Bill Doyle (@BillDoyle15) April 20, 2016
Nor, it seems, will Bradley, who said he heard a pop after suffering a right hamstring strain during the fourth quarter of Atlanta's 102-101 win, and who's expected to be out for the remainder of the series. The 7-foot Olynyk, Boston's best frontcourt shooter and a valuable reserve in coach Brad Stevens' rotation, was also ruled out shortly before tipoff with a sore right shoulder, leaving the Celtics without two of their top six regular-season scorers against a Hawks team that finished the season second in the league in points allowed per possession.
The results were immediately visible. The insertion of poor-shooting, defense-first guard Marcus Smart in Bradley's spot in the starting lineup, combined with swingman Jae Crowder's ongoing search for his range, exacerbated the Celtics' season-long struggle to knock down shots outside the paint. Stevens spent the first 12 minutes shuffling deck chairs, running out 10 players in the quarter in mix-and-match alignments that, in some cases, had never shared the floor; nothing worked, or even really came close to working.
The lack of firepower on the floor for Boston also emboldened the Hawks defense to focus even more on locking down the lane, keeping All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas from penetrating all the way to the bucket, and contesting damn near everything the Celtics chucked up. The Hawks set a new franchise playoff record with 15 blocked shots on Tuesday, holding Boston to 3-for-23 shooting and just seven points in the first quarter. That's the fewest points Atlanta has allowed in a quarter this season, the fewest points in the first quarter of any playoff game in the shot-clock era, and the fewest points in a quarter in the long, long, long playoff history of the Boston Celtics.
As tremendous as Atlanta's half-court defense was in choking the life out of the Celtic attack, the Hawks' own offense all but went into hibernation after that first-quarter flurry. Atlanta shot just 23-for-69 as a team after the 5:28 mark of the opening quarter; the Celtics actually outscored them from that point, 69-65, as the Hawks just kept bricking open look after open look, failing to rediscover the early-game touch and rhythm that would allow them to push the pedal to the metal and put away a Celtics squad lacking just about any reasonable path to buckets.
The Hawks got strong outings from Korver (17 points on 6-for-9 shooting, seven rebounds), Al Horford (17 points on 6-for-11 shooting, five rebounds, five blocks), Jeff Teague (13 points on and 5-for-9 shooting, six assists, two steals) and Thabo Sefolosha (12 points, six rebounds off the bench). But starters Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore shot a combined 3-for-26 from the field, and the Hawks as a team managed just a 39 percent mark for the game. As a result, the Celtics hung around far longer than their own offensive play gave them any right to, and even briefly threatened in the second quarter, thanks to an infusion of energy and interior finishing from veteran big man Amir Johnson (14 points on 6-for-11 shooting, eight rebounds, one giant block) and some steady playmaking from point forward Evan Turner (12 points on 5-for-12 shooting, five rebounds, three assists).
Despite their best efforts, and despite the Hawks' inability to put the hammer down, Boston couldn't get close enough to get close enough. This brief video clip really kind of sums it up:
Hawks scored 65 points in the final three quarters and won by 17.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 20, 2016
Atlanta held serve at home, controlling the lion's share of the action and leading for more than 95 percent of the minutes in the first two games, but did so without looking particularly impressive on the offensive end outside of the opening minutes of the two games. That might not bode well for the Hawks' chances of trading haymakers with the stiffer competition they'd face later in later rounds, but so far, it's been more than enough to take a commanding lead over a Celtics team that lacks the firepower to consistently puncture one of the game's very best defenses.
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