102715 ATLANTA: -- A new Hawks logo is painted on the tunnel wall leading out to the court for the first regular season basketball game "home opener" on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / firstname.lastname@example.org
This was a game with strange incentives. The Celtics are locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and so the result didn't matter in that regard. The Hawks' draft lottery positioning would benefit from a loss but that doesn't matter to the players, who played to win and earned consecutive road victories for the first time this season. The Hawks were down nine points at halftime and 11 midway through the third quarter. They cut the lead to one point twice late in the third period and were down 91-87 with less than eight minutes to play. By that point Celtics coach Brad Stevens had his starters on the bench for good. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer sent back in his best available player, Taurean Prince, who couldn't miss.
Prince scored eight straight points and Mike Muscala completed a four-point play for a 99-99 tie. After the game was tied 101-101, the Hawks couldn't score on four straight possessions: Prince missed an open mid-range shot, Collins committed an offensive foul, Prince missed a short bank shot and then Prince his first three-point try in eight attempts. But Dewayne Dedmon's three-pointer put the Hawks ahead 106-104, Boston's Jonathan Gibson tied it with a jumper and then Dedmon dunked on a feed from Prince for a 108-106 lead. Hawks point guard Isaiah Taylor scored on a drive for a 110-106. Boston's Shane Larkin missed an open layup following a steal with 9.7 seconds left and the Hawks held on for the victory.
Lottery standings update: With one game the play the Hawks (24-57) now are tied with the Mavericks (24-57) for the third-worst record in the league. The Grizzlies (21-58) have a home game against the Pistons later this afternoon. If the Grizzlies lose, the Hawks will be out of the running for the league's second-worst record and second-best lottery odds.
You could see early on that Prince was feeling good about his shot. He made his first three-point attempts and two of those were difficult looks. Prince had 15 points on seven shots in the first half, 33 points on 17 shots the game (7-for-8 on three-pointers).
Another solid game for DeAndre' Bembry: 20 minutes, 11 points on nine shots, three assists, three rebounds and no turnovers. Bembry both finished at the basket and found open shooters on drive-and-kicks. I thought Bembry was going to shut it down for the season but instead he's made something out of the final week.
John Collins had trouble handling Greg Monroe, a physical mismatch and skilled scorer around the basket. Collins didn't take advantage of his advantage at the other end in the second quarter but did in the second half while finishing with 12 points on nine shots and three assists.
Budenholzer continued to tinker with his lineup. Two natural point guards were available (Isaiah Taylor and Josh Magette) but neither started the game. Instead, Bembry and Damion Lee started in the frontcourt with Lee as the primary ballhandler. In the third quarter Budenholzer countered Boston's big lineup with a small group featuring Prince at power forward and Mike Muscala at center. And in the fourth quarter Budenholzer used a three-wing alignment with Bembry, Lee and Antonius Cleveland.
Early in the game the Hawks (especially Prince) were loose with the ball, couldn't get anything inside against Al Horford and Aron Baynes and couldn't make jump shots (except for Prince). Eventually their shots started falling and the passing improved. The Hawks still couldn't challenge the lead in the first half because they couldn't slow the Celtics, a below-average offensive team missing elite scorer Kyrie Irving. The Celtics used sharp player and ball movement to create all the good shots they wanted in the first quarter, when they totaled 11 assists on 13 field goals, committed just one turnover and made three of five three-point tries.
The Hawks played with greater defensive intensity in the second quarter and challenged more shots. But poor defensive rebounding stymied their comeback chances. The Hawks took control of the game once they kept the Celtics off the boards and made some shots.
By their standards of the past month, the Hawks had a full, healthy roster. Four players returned from Erie: Magette, Tyler Cavanaugh, Jeremy Evans and Andrew White III. Three players were removed from the injury report: Prince, Cleveland and Dewayne Dedmon. Budenholzer ended up using 10 players with Magette, Cavanaugh and Evans as odd men out.
About the Author
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.