Things the Boston Celtics have been doing well in their playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks: Defending the three-point shot, and standing around while Isaiah Thomas does his thing.
A Brad Stevens team isn’t supposed to be like this: Relying on one player to carry them to wherever it is he’s good enough to take them. But the Celtics aren’t in the mood or situation where it’s about improving as a group or finding out who they are. They need to win, and Avery Bradley going down with an injury means it no longer matters how they do it. If it’s by sacrificing everything so one player can score? So be it.
Thomas finished with 42 points on 24 shots in the game 3 win (111-103) over the Hawks. He’s averaging 28.3 points in the series, shooting 48.3% eFG and 57.4% True Shooting. That’s not exactly efficient, but it’s not the kind of shooting that drags a team down with him. And when Evan Turner can’t make shots (15-for-39 from the field) and Jae Crowder is going through some confidence crisis when it comes to his jumper, there’s no other choice but to lean on Thomas.
The Hawks are never as great as they are in the regular season. Paul Millsap is averaging just 8.7 points per game. Kent Bazemore is missing too many shots, shooting just 37% from the field and 22% from beyond the arc. They’re scoring (99.2 offensive rating), but it’s not as comfortable and smooth as they’d like it to be. Even without Bradley, the Celtics defend the floor well and besides Jeff Teague, there doesn’t seem to be any other player the Hawks have who is troubling the Celtics consistently when he has the ball. Kyle Korver hasn’t been shut out (hitting 43.5% of his threes) but the Celtics are doing a good job of not letting his shooting get out of hand.
As long as they keep the Hawks shooting just 27.5% from three (Teague has only made 1-for-8 so far), they have a shot. But Thomas isn’t going to have three more 42-point games, and the Hawks won’t be missing shots forever. Their defense can handle other things the Celtics throw at them. Stevens needs to figure out how to get others involved, or the Celtics will go down swinging, with only Thomas left standing as they exit in the first round for a second straight season.