Celtics

7 takeaways as Trae Young leads Hawks over Celtics despite 34 points from Jayson Tatum

The Celtics finished their road trip 1-2.

Celtics Hawks takeaways
Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks drives against Jayson Tatum and Al Horford of the Boston Celtics. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics fell to the Hawks 110-99, dropping to 1-2 on their three-game road trip.

1. The Hawks’ backcourt was crucial. Trae Young hurt the Celtics in a variety of ways, even though he wasn’t scoring at a particularly high clip — 18 points on 4-for-12 shooting and 0-for-6 from behind the arc. The Celtics defended him aggressively with a variety of looks including some traps, but Young simply split his way out of them and found teammates (11 assists). Late in the game, he hit a layup and a short jumper that put the game nearly out of reach.

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Kevin Huerter, meanwhile, helped build the lead that Young’s late-game performance protected. Huerter was 7-for-9 from the field and hit five triples, en route to 19 points. When the Hawks get that much production from their guards, the rest of the team becomes difficult to defend.

2. Jayson Tatum was excellent — 34 points, 12-for-23 from the floor, 5-for-13 from deep. He drove aggressively at the rim and looked more comfortable (and maybe more on-balance?) from 3-point range. When the Hawks doubled him, he moved the ball well, and his paint touches collapsed the Hawks’ defense.

In other words, Tatum did exactly what he needs to do on a nightly basis until the fourth quarter. At that point, the Hawks managed to keep the ball out of his hands — Tatum made his final field goal with 8:43 remaining.

“He’s doing the right thing,” Udoka said. “We had a countless amount of wide-open threes in the fourth quarter that could have obviously changed the tide, so he’s being unselfish and doing what’s asked of him. We could try to get him balls in other spots — on the post perhaps — but we liked what he was doing in pick-and-roll, off-ball actions.

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“It’s easy to double him in the post, so we didn’t go to the post as much, and just got to trust teammates, like we all do, and encourage him to do the right thing, which is getting off the ball, and guys got to make the teams pay when they double him.”

3. Grant Williams started and played well, notching 18 points next to Al Horford. The Celtics certainly miss Robert Williams, but Grant Williams’ floor spacing was a nice addition.

“I got to take the open ones and knock them down versus kind of being passive,” Williams said. “I think that’s when I miss the most when I’m kind of hesitant and I’m like, ‘Maybe there’s a better shot somewhere else.’ That’s the biggest thing, just trying to stay head down and continue to work but also let the work show for itself.”

The starting lineup struggled in the early going, but Udoka’s decision to give it a shot made sense: Williams, Horford, Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Dennis Schröder had outscored opponents by 46.7 points per 100 possessions in their 30 possessions on the court this season, per Cleaning the Glass.

4. Young and Huerter were good, but perhaps the biggest difference was the disparity in bench scoring: The Hawks outscored the Celtics 32-11. Of the Celtics’ 11 bench points, 10 came from Josh Richardson — everyone else was 0-for-9.

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Richardson has been solid, but the Celtics’ bench gets thin with Brown and Williams out.

5. Romeo Langford has shown flashes as a shooter, defender, and ball-handler this season, although he is yet to piece together all three facets of his game simultaneously. He gets to the rim pretty well, especially driving along the baseline.

He probably should have taken this layup, though.

6. Some players rack up assists by passing to players who make a move and score. Those assists could reasonably be considered “cheap.”

On Wednesday, Marcus Smart dished out 11 assists and only a small handful could be considered “cheap.” He drew two defenders and found Williams on the first. He collected two steals, both of which led to run-out points for Tatum. He wrapped a pick-and-roll pass around two people to Tatum for another triple. He drew two defenders and found Horford. He wrapped another pick-and-roll pass over two defenders to Richardson for his only 3-pointer.

Smart is the Celtics’ leader in efficiency differential, per Cleaning the Glass, meaning the Celtics outscore opponents by 15.8 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor. Some of that is defense, but the Celtics are also +9.1 offensively. Schröder might be more dynamic as a scorer, but Smart can really pass, and it makes a difference.

7. To celebrate the NBA’s 75th season, NBC Sports Boston revisits memorable moments in Celtics history. Wednesday’s was a fun one: A perfect quarter against the Hawks in 1986. The Celtics outscored the Hawks 36-6 and 24-0, and Doc Rivers — who played for the Hawks at the time — said the Celtics had “a place you [the opponent] couldn’t go to.”

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NBA history is littered with moments that got lost in the ether. Unearthing those moments is a fun way to look back at the team’s past.

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