Hawks start hot again, block any potential Celtics comeback in Game 2

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Marcus Smart – already starting for an injured Avery Bradley – hunched over, winced and held his side just two minutes into the game. Rookie R.J. Hunter replaced him and immediately lost Kyle Korver for a corner 3-pointer. Brad Stevens called timeout.

The Hawks dealt the depleted Celtics another blow, surging to a 24-3 start in a 89-72 Game 2 win Tuesday. Atlanta led by double digits the rest of the way, preventing a comeback like Boston made in Game 1, to take a 2-0 series lead.

The Celtics can bank on the series moving to Boston, but teams that have hosted and won the first two games of a best-of-seven series have won 94% of the time. The Hawks gave little indication they’ll be the rare exception.

Atlanta began the game with absolutely menacing defense, holding the Celtics to seven points in the first quarter – the fewest in the opening quarter of a playoff game in the shot-clock era. The Hawks barely relented in the final three quarters.

Led by Horford (five) and Millsap (four), Atlanta blocked 15 shots. That’s the most in a playoff game since the Lakers against the Nuggets in 2012, but Denver attempted more shots (90) than Boston did tonight (82). The last time a team blocked so many shots with so few opportunities was 2004, when the Pistons blocked 19 of the Pacers’ 80 shots.

By packing the paint, Atlanta held the Celtics to freakishly low 36% shooting in the restricted area (14-of-39). Boston never looked comfortable shooting from outside (5-for-28, 18% on 3-pointers), especially its playmakers.

Smart returned, but he shot just 1-for-11. His backcourt mate, Isaiah Thomas, went 4-for-15. They combined for five assists and five turnovers as Atlanta took away their individual offense then their passing lanes.

On the other hand, Korver made 5-of-7 3-pointers – including a few during the early run – to score 17 points. He also grabbed seven defensive rebounds to send the Hawks running into their early offense. Those semi-transition points were big on a night Boston’s defense wasn’t half bad.

The biggest downer for Atlanta was a late injury to Dennis Schröder. He grabbed his left ankle then went to locker room in the final minutes.