The Boston Celtics lead 3–1 against the Atlanta Hawks
Great performances from Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon helped the Celtics take a dominant series lead.
Troubled by some late-season injuries, the Boston Celtics marched into the 2023 National Basketball Association postseason as the second seed of the Eastern Conference. They are squaring off against the Atlanta Hawks, who fended off the Miami Heat to secure the seventh-seed spot in the play-in tournament, in the first round of playoffs.
The Hawks came away with the win in Miami thanks to excellent rebounding and a 26–6 run on second-chance baskets, but their size advantage disappeared against the Celtics. With big men Al Horford and Robert Williams III in the paint, “the Jays” — Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — on the wings, and taller guards Marcus Smart, Derrick White, and Malcolm Brogdon, the Celtics have a mismatch in every single position on the court. There was, therefore, no surprise that many analysts predicted a Celtics sweep in this first-round matchup.
A sweep was seemingly in sight as the Celtics won by 13 in both of their first games at home, but the Hawks fought back last Friday and defended their home court in Atlanta. Despite outstanding three-point shooting from the Celtics, a tough corner trifecta from Dejounte Murray and clutch-time Trae Young floater helped the Hawks pull through in game three. The Celtics bounced back on Sunday with masterclass scoring from Brown and Tatum, who both tallied 31 points for the win, and 15 rebounds from Williams III. The Celtics are now 3–1 in the series, and just one win away from advancing to the second round.
For the most part, the Celtics are in good shape for another run to the NBA Finals. “The Jays” have stayed consistently productive throughout the season. While new Head Coach Joe Mazzulla remains cautious managing William III’s minutes on the hardwood, Horford does not disappoint as a starter as he does a decent job defensively containing smaller guards after pick-and-roll actions and facilitating the offense with his vision and veteran experience. Smart, with his size and lengthy wingspan, continues to excel in every defensive matchup, averaging 2.3 steals per game in this series so far — proving why he was named Defensive Player of the Year last season.
What makes the Celtics a scary match-up this year is the abundance of scoring options. The decision last summer to sign Brogdon has proven to be a great success, as Brogdon was just honored with the Sixth-Man-of-the-Year Award for his regular season performance. Coming off the bench in all 67 games played, Brogdon averaged 14.9 points, 3.7 assists, and 4.2 rebounds in only 26 minutes of average game time. Although Brogdon is easily qualified for a starting position, playing him from the bench and pairing him with one of “the Jays” ensures constant scoring energy for all 48 minutes.
Another unsung hero that stepped up during the early playoff run is White, who averages almost 20 points with unbelievable efficiency. He is currently shooting 52%t from downtown with a 58 overall field-goal percentage. Combined with his 89% free-throw strike, White is currently a premium member of the 180 club — a combined 180% in all three major shooting stats — and approaching a 200-club level performance. If White can stay hot in the upcoming series on the Celtics’ road to the finals, it should be safe to say that nothing could stop Boston this postseason.
The only problem the Celtics face, in my opinion, is the turnovers. When the Celtics have good control of the ball on offense and are able to set up their defense, their game has always been a nightmare for the opponents. However, when they allow fastbreak points or simply do not take care of the ball, they lose grasp of the outcome of the game. This has been reflected by the late Tatum turnover, which he took personally in the game three loss and the 16 team turnovers in the close game four. Impatience remains to be the sole enemy of the Boston squad.
As the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers swept the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics have a sense of urgency to advance as soon as possible. Today, April 25, the Celtics will host the Hawks as they hope to close out the series. The Celtics’ fans are keeping their eyes on Joel Embiid’s injury updates, while the Celtics shall focus and take care of business tonight in the TD Garden.