Clint Capela of the Hawks and Al Horford of the Celtics battle for a rebound in Atlanta

Defensive Rebounding, Hawks Reserves Bite C's in Game 3

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

The Celtics dropped Game 3 in Atlanta but feel far from defeated. They know exactly where they made mistakes, and they’re eager to correct them Sunday night in Game 4.

Boston noted two particular areas of focus following its 130-122 loss to the Hawks: containment of Atlanta’s second unit, and defensive rebounding. Interestingly enough, the two also happened to overlap Friday night.

Atlanta’s bench poured in 44 points during Game 3 after scoring a total of only 50 over the first two games of the series. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Saddiq Bey led the bench charge with 15 points apiece on a combined 11-for-15 shooting effort, while Jalen Johnson also added in 10 points off the bench.

The Celtics, and Joe Mazzulla in particular, pointed to the second quarter as the moment at which they allowed those three Atlanta reserves to catch a rhythm.

“We let some of their role guys get hot,” Mazzulla said after the loss. “I thought that second quarter dictated the game, where Bogdanovic and Bey kinda made a huge difference when Trae Young went out. I thought that gave them life, and I thought they played a pretty complete game.”

Boston’s coach hit the nail on the head, as Bogdanovic, Bey and Johnson combined to score 19 points on a 7-for-8 shooting, including five 3-pointers, during the second period. The Hawks outscored Boston by 13 points while Bogdanovic was on the floor during the frame.

Had this game been played inside the friendly confines of TD Garden, the C’s likely would have had a chance to wrangle Atlanta’s reserves at some point the rest of the night. However, this game was played inside State Farm Arena, and it’s far more difficult to flip the switch on an opposing role player when they’re inside their home arena.

“We’re in the NBA, and we’ve got a lot of players and they’re here for a reason,” said Marcus Smart, who scored a season-high 24 points. “So you give guys confidence, at home, they get moments like that and it came back to bite us in the butt.”

Boston’s struggles on the defensive glass also came back to bite it in the butt. The Hawks piled up 23 second-chance points after totaling just 25 over the first two games combined. Four separate Hawks grabbed multiple offensive rebounds, including a game-best four from Clint Capela. Atlanta capitalized on those secondary opportunities far more often than not, as it connected on nine of its 15 second-chance shots.

This is where the crossover exists between Boston’s two areas of focus, because it was Atlanta’s reserves who oftentimes cashed in on those second-chance opportunities.

“We gotta be able to stop that,” Smart commented. “Like I said, they get second-chance shots, they get to feeling good. So we did a good job on our first-shot defense. Just got to clean it up with the rebounds.”

Sounds simple, but it might just be true. Atlanta played exceptionally well Friday night. There’s no questioning that. The Hawks torched the nets against the league’s No. 2 defense from the regular season, and they cashed in on second-chance opportunities while their reserves shot the lights out.

Yet still, despite all of that, this game went down to the final minute as the Hawks eked out a win.

The Celtics have diagnosed their missteps and are looking forward to rectifying them in Game 4. If they do, this series should shift right back to where it was heading into Friday night: in Boston’s control.