ATLANTA — Brogdon sucks!
The understated Celtics Sixth Man of the Year entered the lineup after TNT announced his victory night prior and comments at shootaround Friday morning critiquing the Hawks fans from his native Atlanta. He considered himself among those who held an underwhelming, if any, fandom toward the team — following the league at large instead while growing up.
That energized a Hawks crowd that taunted him routinely during his minutes, which started four minutes into the game as both teams leaned into their strengths, shooting and spacing for the Celtics, and offensive rebounding and paint looks for Atlanta. Brogdon sucks, they yelled. We don’t claim you.
The Hawks started 22-for-30 inside the arc, and the Celtics lost for only the second time this season when they shot 40% as Atlanta extended its run of timely and dominant offensive rebounding. None bigger than Clint Capela’s box-out of Marcus Smart that sent the latter crashing to the floor on his tailbone and set up a Trae Young step-back three and five-point Hawks lead late in their 130-122 win.
“They go every time,” Smart said of Atlanta’s offensive rebounding. “That’s really it. There’s nothing tactical about it. It’s a matter of will, and they wanted it more tonight. They go every night. We’ve gotta be able to stop that. Like I said, when they get second-chance shots, they get to feeling good. We do a good job on our first-shot defense, we’ve just gotta clean it up with the rebounds.”
Brogdon found Smart for three on an early drive-and-kick and hit his own pulling up from deep to tie the game after early Young and Dejounte Murray drives. Grant Williams entered the lineup after Derrick White hit foul trouble and Brogdon found him for the first of four threes on a loop pass. Williams and Boston closed the first quarter hitting four more in a row as part of a lethal shooting start to a night where they landed 21 from deep. They also allowed baskets on 5-of-6 Hawks possessions to close the frame on a night where Atlanta shot 56%, including collapsing on a post touch to Jalen Johnson, who kicked-out to Bogdan Bogdanovic for three as part of an 11-for-12 start for Atlanta’s bench.
They needed it as Smart saw two threes fall and White hit another around an Al Horford screen, extending the Celtics’ start to 12-for-19 from deep. Then, Bogdanovic blocked Jaylen Brown on a baseline drive and Onyeka Okongwu caught a post entry, bodied Williams and finished inside. Williams watched the first two games on the sideline, when the Hawks’ physicality became apparent, and experienced it in a surprise first appearance.
“I didn’t (know),” Williams said. “You don’t expect to hear (if you’ll play or not). You’re a player in that situation. You don’t try and coach, you try your best to focus on what you can control, and in that first game, I didn’t play and tried to keep the same attitude as if I did … tonight, I don’t know what decided that I’d go in, so I went in and tried to play well. Frustrating that we lose, still. Even in Game 2 and 1, they’re crashing, trying to get extra opportunities, taking the open threes that are available to them. We have to do a better job putting more pressure on them, being more physical, being more aggressive than passive … Dejounte and Trae were really comfortable.”
Mazzulla predicted pre-game they’d face a stretch where fortune shifted in the Hawks’ favor and Bogdanovic’s pair of threes, Murray’s downhill drives and the emergence of Atlanta’s role players put the Celtics behind by 14 points before halftime. He liked how they responded after the 20-12 run with Young off the floor, cutting the lead in half by attacking him, then Boston rode a string of turnovers by the Hawks’ guards to erase the rest of it.
Smart’s feed to a cutting Brown for a dunk tied the game at 79, but Tatum’s miss inside and Brown’s inconsistent involvement didn’t allow the Celtics to build an advantage. He missed most of the third quarter in foul trouble.
“I’ve gotta be better,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of athleticism, a lot of guys that go in hard … it just seemed like the ball bounced a little bit out of our direction and into theirs, but we gotta take some of the luck out and be better on that offensive glass. It’s a dog fight down there … I definitely, overall, need to be more aggressive. Find more spots in the game where I can attack. I wasn’t aggressive enough tonight.”
Brown grabbed a pair of steals upon returning in the fourth, and Boston trailed by seven after another Atlanta bench run. He missed a shot, barely dumped-off a pass to Brogdon after losing his dribble and on the third run launched an errant alley-oop to Robert Williams III.
Brown recovered the ball, tossed it away again and saw it slip past between Brogdon’s legs. White saved the possession standing in front of Johnson for a charge take on the other end. Smart’s dive into the back court, dump-off to Horford and basket of his own withstood three straight tough Young finishes in the lane. Boston began switching everything, landing Horford on Young for several key stops.
The Celtics avoided giving the Hawks extra chances on them, one slipping past Bey’s hand and another miss bounced to the right corner where Horford tipped the ball off Bey. The Hawks soon broke through. Tatum screamed for a push-off call after Capela’s follow attempt landed back in Atlanta’s hands. Capela stepped in front of Smart on Murray’s mid-range try and gained a third try. That time, Young stepped-back to the right corner and buried a decisive three over Horford.
Murray launched one over White from the right corner, who stumbled to the floor trying to guard it and pointed at his former teammate. Smart pointed back after his three kept pace, but as Brown slowed in transition trying to regain his dribble on the break after a steal on Hunter trailing by three, he needed to toss the ball to Horford, who found Tatum wide-open on a shot that fell long — landing in Atlanta’s hands to avoid the sweep.
“I thought it felt good,” Tatum said. “It hit the back of the rim, gave myself a chance. Second half, I’ve gotta play better, I had some timely turnovers, had some reads at the rim, maybe trying to get fouled, where I’ve gotta do a better job of making better decisions in timely situations. This one tonight is on me.”