Celtics vs. Hawks, 2016 NBA playoff results: Atlanta executes better late, gets a close 102-101 win in Game 1

The Hawks let the Celtics get back in the game after leading by as many as 19 points but executed better late and got a key win in Game 1.

Hawks vs. Celtics was expected to be one of the most fun series in the first round and Game 1 didn’t disappoint. Atlanta led by as many as 19 points in the first half only to see Boston rally and make it a game in the second. It all came down to the final minutes, where the Hawks made fewer mistakes and got the 102-101 win. Al Horford led the way for the Hawks with 24 points while Isaiah Thomashad 27 in the losing effort.

The Hawks started out sharper and quickly got a double-digit lead early in the first quarter, a surprising development, considering this was expected to be a very close series. Boston settled for jumpers but was missing some good looks, and Atlanta did a good job of preventing second chance points. On the other end they attacked the paint for easy points, with Jeff Teagueleading the way.

Both teams continued to miss three-pointers for the entire first half, but only Boston paid for it. Those long rebounds from their misses fueled the Hawks’ fastbreak and secondary transition attacks. Whenever the paint was unprotected Atlanta went inside and made the Celtics pay. The Hawks were simply more disciplined getting back on defense and that made a huge difference. At the half the lead was 17.

The Celtics quickly made a run to cut the deficit by doing what they have done so well all season long: creating turnovers and turning them into points. Isaiah Thomas, who had struggled greatly in the first half, caught fire and went for seven points and three assists in the third quarter. It wasn’t enough to get Boston its first lead of the game, but the Celtics managed to cut the deficit to 7 heading into the final period.

That momentum carried over. The Hawks continued to make mistakes while every defensive stop provided a confidence boost for Boston’s shooters, who started to hit their three-pointers. Soon enough, the Celtics had a small lead. Atlanta responded and both teams traded buckets as the game went down to the wire.

The Celtics had their opportunities to steal it but couldn’t capitalize. They missed some key free throws and open looks before hitting some huge shots when it was too late. Ultimately the Hawks dodged a few bullets but got the win in Game 1, which is all that matters.

3 things we learned from the Hawks’ close win

Playoff Teague lives!

The Celtics were supposed to have a big edge at point guard after Isaiah Thomas’ breakout season. Jeff Teague is talented but inconsistent and has a tendency to disappear for long stretches. Unless it’s the playoffs, of course. Then Teague goes from being a solid starting point guard to a borderline star.

Teague finished with 23 points and 12 assists and his drives got the Hawks going early. That’s not surprising, considering he upped his averages on points in the past two postseasons and has had some great performances when his team has needed him the most.

The Hawks reportedly explored trading Teague before the trade deadline. After his performance in Game 1, they are surely glad they didn’t.

Atlanta has a huge advantage at the big man spots

It was clear before the series started that the Hawks had an edge when it came to big man production, but Game 1 showed just how big that gap really is. Paul Millsap and Al Horford completely dominated their matchups inside, combining for 38 points, 19 rebounds five assists and five blocks. Mike Scott, meanwhile, contributed 14 points and five rebounds off the bench.

Brad Stevens won’t panic and make changes to his big man rotation after just one game, but he will need to figure out a way to prevent the Hawks’ big men from causing so much damage.

Horford and Millsap have always been underrated. If they can continue to punish the Celtics with a national audience watching, they will soon get the respect they deserve.

If Bradley misses time, the Celtics could be in trouble

Avery Bradley had to leave the game in the fourth quarter with a strained right hamstring. He wasn’t having his best game on offense but still managed to get 18 points on 16 shots while playing solid defense. The Celtics really missed him when Jeff Teague took over and there was no one to cool him down.

Bradley is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and his mid-range shooting bails out some bad possessions on offense. He’s a core player and his absence could force Brad Stevens to up the minutes of some subs that might not be ready to play that much in the playoffs. Marcus Smart was fantastic in Game 1 but it remains to be seen if he can do that consistently on big minutes.

Stevens is bright and the Celtics are deep, but if they plan to go far in the playoffs, they will need Bradley.