Celtics restore order against Hawks

Atlanta faces elimination game in Boston
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum hangs on the basket after dunking the ball at the end of the fourth quarter in Game 4 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs at State Farm Arena, Sunday, April 23, 2023, in Atlanta. The Celtics beat the Hawks 129-121. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Celtics forward Jayson Tatum hangs on the basket after dunking the ball at the end of the fourth quarter in Game 4 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs at State Farm Arena, Sunday, April 23, 2023, in Atlanta. The Celtics beat the Hawks 129-121. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The Celtics beat down the Hawks for two wins in Boston, then lost the first game back here. They restored the natural order of things on Sunday. The Celtics are the much better team in this series. They’ll make it official eventually by eliminating the Hawks from the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“We knew that this would be a physical, highly intense game,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said. “I don’t think we matched that consistently over the course of the game.”

It’s been that way all series, save for Atlanta’s Game 3 victory. The Celtics quickly proved that game was an aberration. They took the lead within the first two minutes of Game 4 and never gave it back. When the Hawks tried to rally late, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown kept making plays until the Celtics secured a 129-121 victory.

The Hawks are down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. They face elimination in Game 5 at TD Garden on Tuesday.

“Still alive, and we have to go to Boston and see what we can do,” Snyder said.

It’s doubtful the Hawks will do enough to win that game and bring the series back to Atlanta for Game 6. They may have to try to do it without guard Dejounte Murray. He faces a possible suspension after bumping a game official while leaving the court following the Game 4 loss.

Even if the Hawks find a way to win Game 5, they won’t beat the Celtics three times in a row. The Celtics are too good, too experienced and too determined. They’ll be keen to end the series on Tuesday in Boston.

The Hawks won Game 3 behind outstanding performances by guards Trae Young and Murray and strong contributions from bench players. Young (35 points) and Murray (23) were good again in Game 4. De’Andre Hunter (27 points) had a breakout game. The Hawks just couldn’t muster enough points from others to keep pace with Boston.

Tatum and Brown scored 31 points each and the Celtics flexed their depth. Guards Derrick White, Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon combined to score 51 points. Reserve center Robert Williams had 13 points, 12 rebounds and helped limit the Hawks to 15 of 26 shooting on attempts at the rim.

“There’s a reason they’re the second seed,” Young said. “They’re a really good team.”

The Hawks aren’t at that level. They’ve bested the Celtics once at home. They’ve provided no evidence they can win in Boston.

The Hawks lost each of the first two games by a margin of 13 points. They were down by 30 points in Game 1 and 22 points in Game 2. The Hawks played a good first quarter in Game 2 but never threatened to win after that.

“We’ve got to play well for 48 minutes, and that’s hard to do on the road,” Snyder said. “But that’s a challenge and it’s one we have to embrace because that’s what it’s going to take.”

The Hawks weren’t ready for Boston’s opening punch in Game 4. The Celtics ran out to a 33-22 lead. They got to more loose balls, challenged more shots and collected more misses. There were plenty of those for the Hawks, who at one point missed seven shots in a row.

Both teams were playing a wide-open, fast-paced game. The Celtics did it much better. The coaches expressed that sentiment to their players during team huddles, as captured by TNT’s microphones.

Snyder: “They are defending harder than us, running harder than us, getting loose balls.”

Boston’s Joe Mazulla “We are controlling the pace of the game because we are getting stops and sprinting to our spacing every time.”

The Hawks eventually matched Boston’s intensity. Hunter scored eight straight points, including a pair of 3-pointers on passes from Young. Young made a floater. He passed to John Collins for an open 3-pointer. Clint Capela triggered a fast break with a block on Tatum and Hunter finished it with a dunk.

That play got the Hawks within two points of the lead and sent their fans into a frenzy. The Celtics lowered the volume with a 12-4 run to end the quarter. Smart’s 3-pointer late in the shot clock staked the Celtics to a 65-53 halftime lead.

Boston’s Robert Williams outplayed Atlanta’s big men in the first half with eight points and 12 rebounds. Capela, Collins and Onyeka Okongwu combined for five points and eight rebounds. Then Capela sparked the Hawks after halftime. He had eight points, including three dunks, as the Hawks quickly got their deficit down to five points.

The Hawks were in the fight. They just could never get the lead. The closest they got was 90-87 on Bogdan Bogdanovic’s 3-pointer 24 seconds before the end of the fourth quarter. Then Smart blew by Bogdanovic for an uncontested dunk as no Hawks rotated to help.

Boston’s lead never dipped below four points in the fourth quarter. The Hawks couldn’t string together stops.

The Celtics 37 points in the period while making 12 of 23 shots, including half of their 10 attempts on 3-pointers. Tatum scored 16 points in the fourth quarter and Brown had 12. Boston had 37 attempts at the the rim for the game and converted 25 of them.

Young tried his best to lift the Hawks with 21 points in the fourth quarter. Murray chipped in with seven points. The rest of the Hawks were 1-for-8 from the field in the final period. The Hawks got the kind of high-scoring game they needed to have a chance but faded at winning time.

The Hawks are alive, as Snyder said, but just barely. The Celtics restored order in Game 4. Now they’ll finish off the Hawks in Game 5.