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Celtics vs. Hawks Recap: Boston Moves On In Six

Celtics Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown celebrate after a Game 6 closeout against the Atlanta Hawks. Photo by CelticsBlog

This year’s postseason motto for the Boston Celtics is “Unfinished Business.” The slogan is a callback to Boston’s run to the NBA finals last year that saw them two games away from hoisting the organization’s 18th championship banner. 

Boiled down, the mantra is, “We know what it takes to get there; now we have to finish.” Every player on the team echoed that sentiment from day one this season. But in the NBA, like most industries, it’s about what you do, not what you say. 

The Celtics entered Tuesday night’s Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks up three games to one in their first-round series. Waiting ahead for them is a second-round match-up with the Philadelphia 76ers. All the Celtics needed to do was win one more game, and then they would have three days off to prepare and rest. 

The series didn’t end after five games. A 119-117 loss to the Hawks at home forced the Celtics to expend an extra game’s worth of energy. But more importantly, that type of loss opened up a litany of old wounds and worries that has many questioning if they have learned anything from their pitfalls in the past. 

Although still favored heading into Game 6 last night in Atlanta, the Celtics were not only searching for the answers in themselves but also processing if upsets were this year’s flavor in the playoffs. 

Celtics Rise to the Occasion

Behind two 30-point performances from Boston’s star wings Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, The Celtics secured a 128-120 victory and a four-two series win. Even though Brown and Tatum were catalysts for their offensive explosion, the team, collectively, won this game.

Marcus Smart contributed 22 points and relentlessly attacked the Hawks defense as he made eight out of his nine attempted free throws in the contest. Newly crowned Sixth Man of the Year winner Malcolm Brogdon added 17 points and four assists off the bench in 29 minutes. Finally, Grant Williams, who had seen his minutes fall off even more at the start of the playoffs, played an essential physical role as the Celtics coaching staff experimented with smaller lineups. 

Even though this ended up being an eight-point victory for the Celtics, they were deep in the trenches of battle throughout. 


Both teams were going back in the fourth when at 6:48 left in the fourth quarter Boston came out of a timeout and committed a turnover. That led to Quin Snyder’s squad gaining a slim three-point lead after an alley-oop dunk, and it felt like all momentum was clearly in the hands of the Hawks. But in an instant, with a contested 25-foot three-point shot, Brown captured it right back. Boston would finish the game on a 15-7 run, and each player on the court turned in a highlight play to go with it. 


Learning From the Past

It was an excellent display of execution by the Celtics in crunch time—a far cry from the previous game. Sloppy turnovers, confusion, and bad fouls were a losing recipe.

“We smoked the game,” Brown remarked in his postgame press conference after Game 5. 



The other major correction was the Celtics late-game defense. More individual effort on Trae Young and Dejounte Murray had them taking tough shots. Young, in particular, shot a woeful one-for-13 in the second half, while Murray was scoreless in the first half. Atlanta took a big shot at the Celtics by scoring 100 points through three quarters, but the Celtics rallied in the fourth, holding the Hawks to only 20 points and 38 percent shooting. 

First-year head coach Joe Mazzulla was poised to breeze through the first round after going up two-zero. Then the crunch-time games started happening. In the three games prior that were settled by single digits, the Celtics lost two of them. Mazzulla has been criticized for being on his heels and waiting to react in-game. In this one, Mazzulla was reading the game exceptionally well, responding nicely to runs by the Hawks, and countering Snyder’s tricks with some of his own. 

Moving Forward

Even though the series went longer than the Celtics expected, Tatum, Brown, and company head into a second-round match with the previously mentioned 76ers in the pole position of the Eastern Conference. 


There were a few times last year when we kind of relaxed. Jayson Tatum said earlier in the first round. 



Looking ahead might have been the cause of the Hawks two wins. That won’t be the case against the 76ers. A team with the likely MVP in Joel Embiid is tired of being bullied by this Celtics team. A knee sprain and brace shouldn’t distract the Celtics from a hungry team.

Familiar play style concerns still might haunt Celtics fans. Just last year, the Celtics had three straight series where they kept making things harder on themselves. The quote “few times” Tatum alluded to were Game Five against the Milwaukee Bucks, Game Six against the Miami Heat, and Game Four against the Golden State Warriors. Each was a case study on the Celtics fatal flaw—their focus. 

There are counterexamples like Games 6 and Game 7 against the Bucks to make us forget. No one is saying that winning a title, or a series, is easy. But in each series, mistakes get magnified. And when the answers are in front of you, failing the test over and over feels unacceptable. 

The bright side is the last sequence of the Atlanta series was a team playing and succeeding in the light of adversity. Although the Celtics might’ve gotten their lackluster play over with early, it could feel like “Groundhog Day” in the next round. 


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