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In Friday's loss to the Hawks, the Celtics got outplayed in three out of four quarters, Atlanta's second unit nearly scored three-times as many points as Boston's, and after the Celtics fought to make it a one-point game in the fourth quarter, the Hawks promptly pulled away with an 18-2 run.

Here's an exploration into what stood out from a loss that drops the Celtics, who are still eighth in the East, to 25-25 this season.

Soft Defense Has Boston Fighting an Uphill Battle

The Hawks repeatedly toyed with the Celtics offensively. The latter's lack of physicality allowed the former to get far too comfortable. That led to Atlanta feeling little resistance when attacking off the dribble. The same applies to the home team consistently getting into the paint. Not challenging one of the league's best offenses made it easy for them to find a rhythm.

As a result, the Hawks went into the half with a 62-47 lead. They were shooting 51.1 percent from the field, 7/17 (41.2 percent) from three, scored 18 points in the paint, and they had 11 off turnovers. Despite shooting 1/5 from three, Trae Young had a game-high 13 points at the time.

Poor Shooting Compounding the Problem

Conversely to how well Atlanta played offensively in the first half, the Celtics' 47 points came while shooting 32.6 percent from the field, including 2/16 (12.5 percent) from beyond the arc.

What kept Boston in the game was that they took 17 free throws, making 15 of them, and generated 22 points in the paint. Robert Williams led the way for the Celtics with 11 points.

Marcus Smart Pushing the Tempo

Marcus Smart did a great job pushing the pace throughout the game, doing so off misses and makes. His statistics don't completely capture that, but it consistently put the Celtics in favorable positions.

Smart finished the game with 17 points on 6/8 shooting, and he got himself several buckets in and around the paint by playing uptempo.

BOS vs ATL on 01_28_2022

There was a noticeable drop-off when someone other than Smart tried to orchestrate Boston's half-court offense. That's not a new development, and it makes pairing him with Dennis Schroder in the fourth quarter a disappointing decision. Neither player is much of a threat from beyond the arc, and the offense suffered when the latter ran the point.

The Celtics have been burned by this before, including when they blew a 25-point lead against the Knicks. It's a combination Ime Udoka can avoid, especially while the Celtics are at full strength, and he would be best to do so.

Also, Boston could have made more of an effort to get Smart the ball in the low post against Trae Young. That was a mismatch they rarely even looked to exploit.

Celtics Claw Back in the Game

The Celtics got outplayed for three of four quarters, but they won the third frame convincingly. Ratcheting up their on-ball pressure translated to the Hawks scoring only 18 points, making eight of 26 shots (30.8 percent) and going 1/8 from beyond the arc (12.5 percent).

Providing more resistance on that end of the floor created more opportunities for Boston to attack a defense that wasn't set. That led to 12 points in the paint, half of which came from Jaylen Brown, and the Celtics having a 30-point quarter that cut their deficit to 80-77 entering the fourth frame.

John Collins' Production in the Paint

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Collins' combination of size and athleticism, paired with an aggressive mindset, presented a problem Boston couldn't solve. The veteran forward, whose name is circulating in trade rumors, scored a team-high 12 points in the paint.

In total, Collins tied Trae Young for a team-high 21 points, and those two led the Hawks with nine rebounds apiece. Collins also had a game-high four blocks.

Atlanta's Bench Nearly Scores Three-Times as much as Boston's

The Celtics had no answers for Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danillo Gallinari. The former had 19 points on seven of 14 shooting, including 3/7 from beyond the arc.

The Hawks went on an 18-2 run to put the game away in the fourth quarter, and Bogdanovic had eight of those points, including a tough three over Robert Williams.

As for Gallinari, he contributed 14 points on five of five shooting. From Grant Williams to Romeo Langford, he made light work of anyone who guarded him. Those two led an Atlanta second unit that outscored Boston's 46-17, a significant reason why this game went the way it did.

Hawks Pull Away in the Final Frame

That 18-2 run by the Hawks to put the game away came on the heels of the Celtics' cutting Atlanta's 15-point lead down to one.

Excluding the final 2:56 of the fourth quarter, at which point, Ime Udoka waved the white flag, the Hawks outscored Boston 22-9. They shot 8/14 (57.1 percent) from the field, including 3/5 from beyond the arc. The Celtics didn't force a single turnover, but they coughed the ball up five times, translating to a 10-0 differential in points off turnovers.

For most of the game, the Hawks were the better team. When the Celtics gave themselves a chance to render that irrelevant, Atlanta raised their performance to a level Boston has consistently struggled to reach in the most critical moments this season.

Up Next

The Celtics travel to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans on Saturday night. The game tips off at 7:00 EST. Inside The Celtics will have content related to the game coming out before, during, and after. And follow @BobbyKrivitsky on Twitter for updates and analysis from pregame to post.

Further Reading

The Latest Intel on Marcus Smart and Al Horford as Trade Deadline Approaches

What Stood Out in Celtics' Win vs. Kings: Bos Quickly Puts Sac in

Celtics Musings: Al Horford's Shot Selection, Rotation Tweaks, Talent vs. Record

Report Links Celtics to Jerami Grant

Should Jaylen Brown be the Celtics' Closer?

Trade Options for a Celtics Team in Need of Shooters

Celtics' Trade Options Part II: Facilitators