Hawks leave Boston with no good reasons to believe

Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder calls to his players while facing the Boston Celtics during Game 2 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs, Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder calls to his players while facing the Boston Celtics during Game 2 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs, Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON — The Hawks played two games in Boston and offered no evidence that they can win this playoff series. A good quarter here and there isn't enough to beat the Celtics once, much less four times. The underdog Hawks are facing a championship contender and they can't punch above their weight.

The Hawks were down by 30 points at halftime of Game 1 but tried to take some positives from playing better after halftime. They got off to a good start in Game 2 on Tuesday but lost 119-106 after trailing by 22 points in the fourth quarter. The Hawks are down 2-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series and they've been overmatched for most of it.

"We've just got to keep trying," Hawks coach Quin Snyder said. "You hear people say it all the time, 'That's why it's a series' We lost two in Boston. Now, we're going home and we've got to learn from tonight's game and be better."

The Hawks surely will get a boost from playing in State Farm Arena Friday and Sunday. That won't be enough to make up the gap between these two teams. That's especially true if the Hawks don't get more from star point guard Trae Young.

The Hawks needed a great performance from Young on Tuesday and got a bad one. Young finished with just six assists against five turnovers, got his shot blocked four times and watched his team play better while he was on the bench. The Celtics outscored them by 18 points in Game 2 while Young was on the court, worst by far among Hawks starters.

Celtics fans taunted Young with "over-rated!" chants during the fourth quarter. Young is better than this, but it was hard to argue the point at that moment. Young struggled against the Heat in last year's playoffs and now he's struggling against the Celtics.

The thing is, even if Young plays better that still would leave a long list of issues for the Hawks with no clear solutions.

The Hawks can't guard the Celtics inside or outside. Celtics star Jayson Tatum is having his way. Boston gets the Hawks scrambling on defense and the result usually is a good look at the basket. In two games the Celtics have scored 231 points on 174 shots.

It's going to be hard for the Hawks to slow Boston's dribble, pass, and shoot machine. The formula for beating the Celtics is scoring enough points to put pressure on them. The Hawks did that early in Game 2. Then Boston made it hard to score inside and the Hawks started chucking 3-pointers. They ended up missing 32 of 48 tries.

Said Snyder: "I think our focus is kind of take the shots we get, and the way (the defense) is shifted, if those shots are open, we want to take them. I still feel like when we've turned them down and we get into traffic, the result isn't as good."

Boston buried the Hawks early in Game 1. The visitors were sharp at the start this time.

The Hawks ran out to a 22-11 lead while playing the way Snyder said they should. They made quick decisions with the ball. The defense wasn't great but at least the Hawks didn't allow Boston easy passage to the rim, like they did in Game 1.

Celtics fans who expected another blowout were getting a bit antsy. It turns out they needn't worry. The Celtics took the lead with a 14-0 run as the Hawks missed nine consecutive shots and gave the ball away four times.

Bogdan Bogdanovic's 3-pointer ended Atlanta's scoring drought and tied the score. The Hawks had the ball with a chance to take the last shot of the quarter. Young tried to get to his floater. Derrick White blocked the shot. Malcolm Brogdon collected the loose ball and heaved in a 3-pointer from half court to gain a lead that the Celtics never gave back.

"I really felt like we were playing really good basketball and kind of lost it a little bit and then that shot obviously was impactful," Snyder said. "But we had (three) more quarters to play, too"

The Celtics scored 33 points in the second quarter, 20 of them in the paint, to take a 61-49 lead into halftime. The Hawks fell behind 79-59 in the third quarter before Dejounte Murray gave them a jolt.

With Young on the bench, Murray went to work as primary scorer and playmaker. He had 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting and three assists as the Hawks turned their 20-point deficit into a 91-80 score at the end of the third period. Bogdanovic's 3-pointer got the Hawks within eight points of the lead with 7:48 to play.

The Celtics turned the Hawks back by creating good shots and making most of them. The Hawks couldn't keep up. They lost another game in Boston by a double-digit margin and headed back to Atlanta with no reason to feel good about their chances to win this series.

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