Early afternoon starts are usually a recipe for sloppy basketball. Teams aren’t used to competing that early in games and they have a tendency to come out cold.
The Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks bucked that trend on this Saturday afternoon, combining for 79 points in the first quarter and 136 at the half. Boston built a big lead and looked to be cruising to an easy win before taking an afternoon nap at the wrong time.
They managed to fight off a hard-charging Hawks team, though, and escape with a win in front of a family-filled crowd 129-120
The Celtics came out hot to start the game, hitting their first four shots and eight of their first 11. Most of the damage was done by Kyrie Irving, who came out dueling with Trae Young. Both scored nine points before the first time out five minutes into the game, with Kyrie hitting four of six shots and Young hitting four of five.
The Hawks strung together a 10-2 run out of the timeout, forcing Brad Stevens to call one of his own. The Celtics outscored the Hawks 21-6 to close the quarter. The Celtics got 3’s from Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, and Aron Baynes in this run, on their way to nearly 56 percent shooting from deep for the quarter and 64 percent overall.
Gordon Hayward took a shoulder to the face during this run on a screen by John Collins. He was immediately subbed out and he went to the locker room for testing. He was ruled out with a neck strain.
The teams played even to start the second quarter but Boston made a move about five minute in, getting a 3 and a dunk from Morris, and then a layup and 3 from Smart to force a timeout with Boston up 62-48.
The Hawks would cut the lead to single-digits behind a 9-2 run mostly powered by Collins. Boston responded by scoring six straight points, but a Taurean Prince buzzer beater made it 74-62 Celtics going into the half.
Boston came out of the break on an 8-1 run over the first two-and-a-half minutes behind 3’s from Smart and Irving, and Atlanta took a quick timeout down 19. Trae Young got hot again, scoring eight points in just over a minute of play to cut it to 13, but Boston responded.
A Jayson Tatum layup, Marcus Morris 3, and three free throws by Marcus Smart made it a 21 point game. Kyrie Irving scored five quick points after a Vince Carter 3 to push the lead to 25, but then the Celtics let off the gas.
Atlanta went on a 14-1 run just under three minutes to get it back to 13 going into the fourth quarter. The run extended to 28-6 into the fourth, capped off by a deep, 32-foot 3 by Young to make it 109-106. Kent Bazemore, who made two shots and four free throws in this run, helped tie the game at 112 with his attacking.
The Celtics finally woke up, answering with a 13-2 run driven by Marcus Smart steals and big shots from Jaylen Brown and Kyrie Irving. Again, though, the Celtics got sloppy with a double-digit lead and Atlanta got it down to five. The loss of focus was especially evident when Marcus Morris fired up a 3 in transition with 49 seconds on the game clock and 20 seconds on the shot clock.
Boston was able to close the game out thanks to a big defensive stop that included blocked shots by Kyrie Irving and Al Horford.
Kyrie Irving nearly had his second-straight triple-double, finishing the game with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. Jaylen Brown was great off the bench once again, ended the game with 22 points on 50 percent shooting. Marcus Morris had his second straight double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Trae Young led Atlanta with 26 points.