Returning from a shocking road victory over the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers Nov. 5, the Atlanta Hawks sought yet another impressive home win against the current East-leading Boston Celtics Monday night. Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving had other plans; his season high of 35 points propelled the visiting Celtics to a narrow 110-107 win.
Irving went off, finishing with 35 points on 14-22 shooting and seven assists. His offensive versatility was on full display at Philips Arena, scoring on contested pull up jumpers, spot up threes and a fair share of his signature acrobatic layups.
Scoring wasn’t the only weapon Irving used to dismantle the Hawks — his passing was equally lethal. Collapsing the defense with aggressive drives to the rim and ankle-breaking dribbling, Irving consistently found open teammates on the kick.
“We have the ability [to finish at the basket], but where we become a next-level team is being able to collapse the defense, see the weak side [and hit the open shooters],” Irving said.
Celtics rookie forward Jayson Tatum added 21 points along with eight rebounds while power forward Al Horford flirted with a triple double, posting 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists to help Irving lead Boston’s attack.
Impressive individual performances were not enough to separate the two teams Monday night. It was a back-and-forth dogfight from start to finish, with 25 lead changes in all. The game was tied 54-54 at halftime thanks to Atlanta’s hot shooting (55 percent shooting from the field). Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder (23 points, 6 assists) and center Dewayne Dedmon (19 points, 12 rebounds) led the way, particularly in the first half, finding easy looks out of their pick-and-roll offense. Atlanta’s play of the game came when Schroder raced the length of the court to recover a loose ball and whipped a cross-court pass to a trailing Dedmon for an emphatic one-handed slam.
The Hawks kept up the intensity in the second half, leaping out to a 71-64 lead midway through the third quarter behind eight more Schroder points. But when he went to the bench with 4:55 to play in the third, the Celtics responded with a 13-4 run and took an 82-75 lead into the fourth quarter.
In need of offensive support from someone other than Schroder, the Hawks rallied behind the hot shooting of reserve guard Marco Belinelli, who busted out of a horrific three-game shooting slump to the tune of 19 points and second-year reserve guard Malcolm Delaney, who put up 13 of his own.
Those two players combined for 13 of the Hawks’ 18 points during a four-minute, 18-7 run that gave the Hawks the lead once more with just less than 5:30 to go. Down one with two minutes remaining, it was Delaney yet again who delivered a much-needed three to give the Hawks a 103-101 lead.
“[I’m] proud of the way the guys played and competed,” Hawks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said of Belinelli and Delaney’s play late in the game. He added that he was pleased with “Delaney coming back off of injury [and] playing great [and] Belinelli coming back after not having what he expects and what we expect of him over the last couple of games.”
To the detriment of the Hawks, Irving wouldn’t go quietly into the good night. He loudly scored eight of Boston’s final 13 points. Right after Delaney’s go-ahead three, Uncle Drew took a dribble handoff from Horford and nailed the go-ahead three pointer over the outstretched arm of Hawks’ wing Kent Bazemore to retake the lead for the Celtics.
“I don’t know what more [guard] Kent Bazemore could have done,” Budenholzer said of the shot.
Two possessions later, Tatum hit the biggest shot of his young career, a corner three off an assist from Boston guard Marcus Smart. Tatum’s three gave the Celtics a two-point lead with 47 seconds to play and snatched the heart out of the Atlanta faithful.
“You get an open shot, you shoot it with confidence,” Tatum said.
Normally, Irving takes the game-winning shots. Nonetheless, he had complete confidence in his 19 year-old rookie teammate.
“That pass has to be made,” Irving said. “And he has to shoot it. And if he doesn’t shoot it, then I’m [gonna] be in his face telling him he need’s to f**king shoot it.”
Still, it was Irving who sent Hawks fans to the exits with a 13-foot, game-sealing floater that stretched the Celtics lead to four with just 21 seconds remaining.
The win extends Boston’s win streak to nine games. The Celtics are the first team in NBA history to start off 0-2 and bounce back to win their next nine games. They will look to extend that streak Nov. 8 against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Boston Garden. The Hawks travel to Detroit to play the Pistons Nov. 10 at 7 p.m.