Aggressive plan helped Hawks limit Celtics’ action in the paint Friday

The Hawks won a pivotal Game 3 in their series Friday against the Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They still trail the Celtics 2-1 and will look to come out aggressively again Sunday night so they can potentially even the series before they head back to Boston for Game 5.

Ahead of Friday’s win, Hawks coach Quin Snyder highlighted that the Hawks would have to take the paint away from the Celtics. In matching their physicality, getting through screens and making sure to help on the boards.

In the past two games, the Hawks outrebounded the Celtics 97-73, but Friday they really took advantage of their second-chance opportunities. The Hawks have developed an identity of crashing the offensive glass, with Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla telling reporters that his team wanted to make a conscious effort to stop it.

But it was the Hawks forcing the Celtics out to the 3-point line that gave them a chance to win Game 3. Entering Friday, the Celtics shot 42.4% from 3 to scorch the Hawks in the first two games of the series.

The Hawks knew that it would be difficult to slow Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, while keeping an eye on the myriad role players who could burn them at any given moment. But as long as they continued to challenge every shot with a high level of effort, they could live with the result.

“We know they’re always gonna be aggressive, but if we could try to make others make shots, but they did in the first half,” Hawks forward Saddiq Bey said Friday after the game. “They did. They made a lot of shots. So, at the end of the day we tried to just take away where we want to. We can kind of live with the results. I’m learning that’s what playoff basketball is about, and then down the stretch, we (tried) to do the same game plan and kind of try to make others make shots, again.”

The Celtics made 21 3-pointers Friday, with nine of them coming in the first quarter alone. They capitalized on the screens set by some of their guards, as well as a number of them from big man Al Horford to give them room to shoot.

Though the Hawks gave up so many 3′s to the Celtics on Friday, it was a conscious choice on their part because they felt confident that they could rotate to the perimeter quickly enough to contest those shots.

It worked more in the second half, as the Hawks held the Celtics to 26.1% shooting in the second half.

In fighting through those screens, the Hawks put themselves, particularly their bigs, in a better position to protect the rim. The Hawks gave up 40 points in the paint Friday after giving up a combined 118 points in the paint in Games 1 and 2.

Hawks center Clint Capela said that at this point in the season, he and his teammates can’t shy away from playing a physical game.

“You can’t walk away from it,” Capela said. “You can’t shy away from it. You have to ramp up the intensity and fight through those screens, or we’re gonna switch, and as a guard going up on the big, you start going to help us on the defensive rebounds. So we don’t really want that.

“So yeah, it comes back to gotta fight for through those screens, get back in front and don’t let the guard just drive you underneath the basket, especially with us as bigs, you can’t really help because you got Al Horford, who is shooting 50% from the 3.”

The Celtics have multiple players who can score at multiple places on the floor. But the Hawks understand that they’ll have to continue to tweak things on both ends of the floor to give themselves the chance to extend the series.

“I think maybe one of the biggest things for us is to be even more efficient, offensively,” Snyder said. “Sometimes, those clean looks from 3 are the result of teams getting in the paint. And when you turn the ball over, you know, it’s really hard to defend. So, (we) just have to be a little better, to tweak a few things.

“Some of the breakdowns, guarding, pick and roll, screening actions, all the different things they’re doing in the half court result in open 3′s. And you kind of have to pick your poison. If you’re gonna ever commit to people to a ball, if you trap a pick and roll, if you help on a post, there gonna end up with some open looks. So it’s got to do the best you can.”

The Hawks and Celtics tip off at 7 p.m. Sunday at State Farm Arena.