Short-handed Celtics throttle visiting Hawks, 119-110

Without star point-guard, Kyrie Irving, for the second straight game, the Boston Celtics knew they’d be in for a pretty tough matchup even against the Eastern Conference’s worst team, the Atlanta Hawks. Still without Marcus Smart as he recovers from his hand laceration and now having recently lost Marcus Morris to a bruised hip, the Green we’re missing five players altogether if you include Greg Monroe, who they picked up earlier today. Coach Brad Stevens knew he’d have to draw up a solid game plan against Mike Budenholzer’s squad and he was able to do so as his team came out on top 119-110.

Looking to extend the East’s best record to 38 wins, Boston fans knew Stevens would have to turn to his young guys to get his offense going along with the help of vet Al Horford and he did just that. Going 4-4 in the first quarter, Terry Rozier continued his hot performance from Wednesday night when he recorded his first career triple-double. Showing his versatility on the offensive end, #12 was able to get involved attacking the rim and shooting from beyond the arc.

However for every bucket Terry or rookie teammate, Jayson Tatum, tallied for the C’s, it seemed the Hawks and specifically, Marco Bellinelli, had an answer every time it was their turn on the offensive end. The loss of Smart (and Morris as well) clearly showed as Atlanta had totaled 32 points to build a six point lead after the first quarter.

The Celtics were able to turn things around in the second quarter as they continued riding the hot hand of Rozier. Scoring a few quick baskets to open the second, the Green looked a lot more compact on offense as they were able to move the ball around well.

Horford was a huge part in the passing game, per usual, as the second-year Celtic was able to tally six assists in just the first half of play. Finding Rozier and Tatum a few times for scores, Big Al was able to get another young stud involved in Jaylen Brown. The high-flying swingman was able to pull off an absolutely ridiculous reverse layup where his back ended up facing the basket.

Simply put, the second quarter was a much better outing for the Celtics than the first. Doing a lot better job of not letting up easy baskets and contesting shots, the Hawks had a much more difficult time getting their offense going as they only finished with 23 points in the period.

Along with adding a few baskets on offense, Brown was one of the main conduits on defense along with Horford and first-year Celtic big-man, Aron Baynes. Although he has been underwhelming on offense at times this year, president Danny Ainge brought him in to help inside which he did clogging the paint. This led to the Green shortening Atlanta’s lead down to just a basket (55-53) going into half.

Brown, Horford, and the rest of the C’s continued their better play in the second quarter right into the third as they got off to a hot start the last half. Making use of three ball (and three point-play), the hometown team was able to get back ahead and got the lead up to nine points (74-65) halfway through the period after a Baynes and-one.

Moving the ball around to each other very well, every Celtics starter out of tunnel the second half scored a basket to that point including Tatum who started to heat up. First with a nice slam followed by a smooth pull-up just past the free-throw line, #0 was doing his best to keep Stevens’ offense clicking without fellow Dukie, Kyrie.

However, despite Tatum’s best attempt to steal the show, Terry wasn’t going to allow that to happen.

Now his second career start due to the aforementioned Irving’s absence, #12 kept rolling and stayed on a tear. Knocking down his first three shots from deep to open the final half, Rozier got his point total up to 28 before the quarter even ended which made for a career-high mark to that point. Similar to notching a triple-double a few minutes into the fourth quarter on Wednesday, the third-year guard didn’t even need any time in the fourth quarter to reach his career milestone for points.

The Celtics finished the third heading into the final quarter with just under a 20 point lead up 94-75.

Although they had played very stout during both the second and third periods, the C’s defense began to slip a little at the start of the final period. Having allowed 20 points total the last quarter before as noted, Dennis Schroeder and the Hawks offense started to get hot as they scored 18 points the first six minutes of the fourth. A lot of it can be credited to the fact the Hawks wouldn’t give up despite a few easy baskets but in true Celtic fashion, the Green kept responding on offense as well.

Along with Rozier who knocked down his sixth three-ball (in seven attempts), rookie swingman Semi Ojeleye was able to get in the act as he knocked down two straight buckets including one from deep to extend the C’s lead to fifteen points with a few minutes to go, 112-97. And what a night for rookies and young players it was as Brown and Tatum continued to help down the stretch while the team cruised.

Overall, if you’re a fan of a full box-score and seeing Celtics studs fill it up, this was a great game for you to watch. Rozier’s career-high 31 points and 7 boards while he went 6-7 from deep made for an all-around terrific performance a second straight game. Brown had 19 points and Tatum set a career-high himself of 27 points as they both were awesome creating their own shots and finishing. Big Al was on triple-double watch putting up a 17-6-7 line too, heck even Baynes had an impressive 11-8-5 output.

All the players who needed to step up as the team was short-handed did exactly so and then some. Now their third-straight win, this has to be a big confidence boost for Stevens and his squad knowing they can perform like this without their best player regardless of who they play. Let’s hope they can carry this hot streak into Sunday as they’ll face off against a tough Portland Trailblazers team coming to town.

Follow Brendan on Twitter for more Celtics/NBA info at @brendan_ronan_