From the jump, Joe Mazzulla’s Boston Celtics were locked in on the defensive end, denying the Hawks from creating any sort of momentum at the TD Garden in Game 1 during a convincing 112-99 win.
The mood around the Boston Celtics team in the TD Garden completely shifted on Saturday afternoon. This team and fanbase know what postseason basketball requires. When the calendar flips to mid-April, this franchise knows it is go time. Despite the offense being the main reason for Joe Mazzulla’s success in his first season, the defense stepped up on nearly every front to begin the club’s first round series against the flawed Hawks.
While a lot of the talk as the Celtics went up by a game in the series was on the lack of resistance from Atlanta on the interior, Boston’s attention to detail on the defensive end was the key reason for success. With Robert Williams III and Derrick White being interchangeable in the starting lineup based on matchups, the Cs possess the defensive versatility that can cause teams like Trae Young’s Hawks all sort of issues.
Boston did what only two teams managed to do during the regular season, keep this offense under 100 points. It was the first time since December 7 that Atlanta failed to reach the 100-point mark, shooting a woeful 38.8% from the field on 98 shots. That was good for the Hawks fourth-worst shooting percentage of the season, producing a shooting night under 40% for the first time since mid-December. Every shot Quin Snyder’s side took had some sort of obstacle it needed to overcome.
Their 19 points in the first quarter was just the 13th time throughout this campaign in which they fell short of 20 points in a single quarter. In order for Atlanta to make this a series, not only does it need to focus on causing havoc on the defensive end, it needs to play with much more physicality which in a halfcourt set.
Nothing came easy for this Atlanta side, especially early. Boston’s increased defensive intensity right out of the gate created a massive lead that the away side had little chance at shrinking to single digits. Young and Co. knew they were trouble from the first possession of the game as Jaylen Brown jumped the passing lane resulting in an easy two on the other end for the former California Golden Bear. Brown ran right around Clint Capela’s weak screen to intercept the pass, setting the tone early with the sold-out crowd ready to explode from the tip.
Whether it was White denying Young at the rim or two players swarming the man with the ball to force a tough shot, this Cs defense was out to prove a point to begin a playoff run with lofty expectations. Young made just one 3-pointer all game as Marcus Smart and White attached themselves to the All-Star guard, preventing him from getting to his spot inside and outside the arc. Even early, when Mazzulla’s team committed several uncharacteristic turnovers, the consistency of their defense prevented Snyder’s squad from capitalizing on the mistakes.
The postseason brought an increased level of attention to detail on the defensive end of the floor for the Boston Celtics
The shots that the Hawks converted on in the first half were for the most part contested relatively well by Boston. The active hands of the Cs on the perimeter caused Atlanta into a plethora of questionable passes early on. While Mazzulla’s side let the rope go quite a bit in the third quarter, when it mattered the defense made the plays it needed to. The first defensive possession of the final 12 minutes made it evident the Cs were going to bring back the energy they had for the first 24 minutes of the game.
Young brought the ball up the floor with White staying with him the whole way. He then dished it to Jalen Johnson in the corner where Williams III was. Johnson executed a dribble hand-off to Bogdan Bogdanovic, but the elite adaptability of Williams III allowed him to perform a near perfect contest on the three-point shot. Tatum would snatch the weak-side rebound and head in the other direction where Williams III finished the first offensive possession with a dunk.
Defense leading to confident offense. That is Celtics basketball at its finest. From top to bottom, this team has the players to defend any team in the association. For the Hawks, the task is almost insurmountable if the Boston Celtics can put together that kind of defensive energy in three out of the four quarters.