On Saturday night, the Atlanta Hawks avoided an 0-3 hole in their series against the Boston Celtics by putting on a scorching offensive display, including 74 points in the first half. Atlanta shot 56% from the field and 44% from behind the arc, far and away their best percentages of the series’ first three games, per NBA.com. It was also the best playoff performance since 2021 for point guard Trae Young, who took over down the stretch and finished with 32 points and 9 assists.
After the game, some Celtics suggested that Atlanta’s hot shooting was not a result of a schematic adjustment, but rather a case of a team simply catching fire.
Indeed, Atlanta did convert several high-difficulty looks in the fourth quarter, including consecutive heavily-contested three-pointers from Young and backcourt mate Dejounte Murray that quelled any chance of a Celtics comeback. Those same shots were largely rimming out for the first two games in TD Garden, so from that perspective, yes, it would be a lot to ask for Atlanta to rely on making such high-difficulty looks three more times in the next four games.
However, what this perspective ignores is the rhythm that Atlanta was able to establish earlier in the game that led to those higher-percentage shots being taken with more confidence. In the first half, Atlanta’s offense flowed seamlessly, with Bogdan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey, and Jalen Johnson converting on several open looks, shots that can be relied upon consistently, which in turn opened up the floor for Young and Murray to get to their spots and find their own rhythm. Later, with the game hanging in the balance, the Hawks’ backcourt stars already had a nice flow going that stemmed from the ball movement established in the first half.
These habits are sustainable. Furthermore, it’s not as if the Celtics had an off night themselves. In fact, Boston made six more threes than Atlanta in Game 3. One has to figure that a five-three performance from a 33.6% shooter in Smart is something of an anomaly in its own right.
Atlanta also crushed the Celtics on the glass in Game 3, outrebounding Boston by 19, including a five-rebound advantage on the offensive glass. This is another habit that the Hawks can carry over into Game 4 and beyond and will need to if they want a legitimate shot at winning this series.
So yes, in a vacuum, the Hawks are playing with fire if they expect to hit multiple hero-ball, Kyrie Irving-style shots down the stretch of three out of the next four games. However, what they can do is continue to move the ball and establish an early rhythm, dominate the Celtics’ smaller lineups on the boards, and lean on the playmaking of their All-Star backcourt to carry them in dry spells.
If they do those things, they will give themselves a chance.