The Boston Celtics are better than the Atlanta Hawks. There’s no reason to panic after a Game 3 loss to Atlanta at State Farm Arena, and the C’s still should advance to the second round in five or six games.
But Friday night reinforced what might be this team’s Achilles’ heel: They’re not great front-runners.
Entering Atlanta with a 2-0 lead and the chance to essentially put the series away, the Celtics took their foot off the gas ever so slightly and the Hawks pounced. Spurred on by an energetic crowd, the Hawks shot 65 percent from the floor in the first half and ripped off a 20-3 second-quarter run to open up a double-digit lead.
Boston clawed back to make it a game down the stretch, but Atlanta’s stars shined in crunch time, with Trae Young and Dejounte Murray both hitting clutch buckets to seal a 130-22 Hawks victory.
After the game, they said they were happy with their shots, and they produced 30 points in the paint to Atlanta’s 20 in the final two quarters. It’s fair for Boston to cite the cliche, “It’s a make-or-miss league,” and highlight the other areas it needed to be better, like giving up 54 points in the paint and 23 on second-chance opportunities.
And in the final frame, the visitors got within three on multiple occasions, including with 1:29 left. They then got a stop, and
had a clean look at a three from the right wing in transition, but the shot clanged off the back rim.
“I love Atlanta — this is home, this will always be home,” Brogdon said. “… But as far as the franchise, no. I mean, historically, these fans haven’t been the most dedicated. And that’s myself included, coming up. I was always an NBA fan, but not Hawks specifically.”
In response, Hawks fans booed Brogdon when he touched the ball on Friday. At one point, they started a “Brog-don sucks” cheer, which Brogdon promptly answered with a 3-pointer.
Meanwhile, late in the game, Dejounte Murray buried a 3-pointer over Derrick White, and after White fell to the ground, Murray pointed at his former Spurs teammate. A moment later, Smart hit a three and pointed right back at Murray.
“I know I get a lot of credit when we win, and I have to take the blame when we lose,” Tatum said. “Rightfully so, and gotta play better. Gotta make some better decisions in some of those moments. I will.”
The Celtics will ready themselves for Game 4, which is set for 7 p.m. Sunday at State Farm Arena. It’s a crucial game where the winner will have momentum going forward. Boston still holds the 2-1 first-round series lead as it’ll look to put some pressure on Atlanta next game.
“I didn’t think we were gonna win every game in the playoffs,” Tatum said. “They played well tonight. We come back, get some rest, watch film, learn from it, and I’m extremely motivated and confident that we’re going to play better next game.”
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