In NBA playoffs, Hawks must prepare for Celtics’ scoring versatility

AJC sports reporter Sarah K. Spencer is joined by Hawks beat writer Lauren Williams to discuss the first-round playoff series between Atlanta and Boston.

The Hawks put on a master class on the glass Tuesday night in Miami, when they grabbed a season-high 63 rebounds. Against the Celtics, things probably will shake out a little differently.

As one of the NBA’s top offensive teams, the Celtics don’t miss a lot of shots. Roughly 52% of their field-goal attempts are on 2-pointers, with 44% of their points coming from inside the arc. They get another 40.8% of their points from their 3-pointers.

They ended the regular season making 47.5% of their overall field goals while knocking down 37.7% of their tries from 3.

The Celtics have a ton of depth on their team and can and will make the Hawks pay if they’re left open. The Celtics rank sixth in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage and have eight players shooting 35% or better on at least three attempts per game.

“I think the first thing is, it’s hard,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said at practice Thursday. “It’s something that they’re obviously committed to. They generate them a lot of different ways. So that makes it even more difficult. Clearly, we have a few games that we’ve seen. But again, it’s not a mystery, that that’s a huge part of (their game). That’s not the only thing they do. But it’s a big part of who they are. "

So, the Hawks understand that crashing the glass as they did against the Heat will be a lot more difficult when there aren’t loose balls to grab.

“We’re going to obviously have to know their tendencies,” Hawks center Clint Capela said. “Know how they create those shots, how to manufacture that, and we’re going to have to limit that. And this is how you’re going to get back to what we do. So it’s really about that. It’s also really about who wants it more, who’s going to impact, who’s going to put their style in front of the other. So it’s really going to be about that.”

Capela grabbed a season-high 21 rebounds in the Hawks’ play-in win over the Heat on Tuesday. His performance, along with the rest of the team’s, on the boards is what helped them to dictate the pace of the game.

Of course, the Hawks know they have a completely different game ahead of them against the Celtics. The Hawks will face the third-best defensive rebounding team in the NBA. The Celtics average 35.6 defensive rebounds per game as a team. Celtics wing Jayson Tatum ranks 10th in the NBA in defensive rebounding averaging 7.7 per game.

On top of that, the Celtics have bigs in Al Horford, who can stretch the floor and make teams pay for leaving him open on the perimeter. This season, he has made 44.6% of his 5.2 attempts from long range, but he has also given the Celtics plenty to work with inside.

The Hawks also have Robert Williams, who averaged 8.3 rebounds this season. Williams’ presence in the interior allows his Celtics teammates to defend the perimeter more aggressively because they know he can handle pressure from opponents looking to drive. He averages 1.4 blocks per game.

Capela, of course, won’t be the only player the Hawks will deploy to compete against the Celtics’ front court. He’ll have John Collins there to help him seal off the paint when the Celtics look to drive in. Plus the Hawks will continue to find ways to chase the Celtics off the 3-point line and make every shot attempt as tough as they can.

“That’s a great shooting team,” Capela said. “They have great scorers, experience. They’ve been on a mission since, mission, meaning like they’ve been doing deep playoff runs, since 2016, 2017, I feel like. So this is definitely a experienced team. It’s gonna be great. I’m excited.”

Though the Celtics swept the Hawks in all three of their meetings during the regular season, Capela and his teammates approach the postseason like it’s a clean slate. Since it is a best-of-seven series, Capela said it’s like a whole different ballgame.

“Because the whole focus and awareness is about that team only,” Capela said. “So, it has to be different. We’re not on a back-to-back. We’re not playing Detroit or New York, the game before or after. So it’s really about this team for the next two weeks. So the awareness, the energy, the excitement, then you got the city behind us and we’re gonna go there and we’re gonna come here it’s a whole different ballgame.”

About the Author