It has been an uneven 2022-23 season for the Atlanta Hawks, never lacking for its share of ups-and-downs. When at their best, the Hawks can defeat anyone, but at their worst, they have the look of a team ready to quit and go home.
It got so dire for Atlanta at one point, the front office decided it was time to change head coaches in the middle of the season, firing Nate McMillan and replacing him with Quin Snyder. Even with the squad in flux, bringing Snyder in seemed to be a calming that was desperately needed.
Through it all, the Hawks were able to make it to the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament, and the Miami Heat were waiting for them. It was a daunting task to come to Miami and win, but Atlanta came up with their best game of the season, and earned a playoff berth in the process with an improbable victory.
Their reward for the win is a matchup with the Boston Celtics, the reigning conference champions, in the first round, and if Game 1 is any indication, it’s a battle that will take a monumental effort to conquer.
The Celtics looked dominant during the contest, building a huge lead before cruising to a 112-99 victory. The Hawks looked lethargic in the first half before showing a pulse in the second half. By that time, it was too late and too big of a hole to climb out of.
With Game 2 Tuesday night in Boston, Atlanta has a little time to make adjustments in an attempt to have a better performance before the scene changes to Atlanta. Here are a couple of things they can do to give them the best chance to win.
1. Get off to a better start
As mentioned earlier, the Hawks got off to a slow start in Game 1, and the game was essentially over before they were able to truly get started. With that said, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything Atlanta could take out of the contest to build upon. They did compete in the second half, and they cut into the Celtics’ lead before being held off.
Without getting too analytical with the feedback, the Hawks have to get off to a better start. They can’t end the first quarter down by 10, then have it snowball to 30 at halftime. Come Game 2, they have to at least be in the building.
In order to do that, the team’s star player has to be the one to set the tone. That means guard Trae Young has to come out aggressively, whether that is looking for his own shot, or just simply attacking to draw more defense towards him to set up his teammates. Either way, Young needs to have a big game if Atlanta wants to compete in this game and the series as a whole.
Simply put, they have to know what it feels like to have a lead.
2. Meet force with force
From the opening tap, it was clear Boston was the more aggressive team, with their stars, forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, getting downhill and searching out their offense. On the defensive end, the Celtics made sure Atlanta didn’t get anything easy, with waves of defenders making things uncomfortable for the visiting Hawks.
Meanwhile, Atlanta looked like a team that has never been in the playoffs before, forgetting what it’s like to be in heated environments. Let’s remember the team is mostly the same from the one that made it to the conference finals just two seasons ago.
One thing we can count on from the Celtics is physicality, and the Hawks have to match it (if not exceed it). That means they can’t get pushed around, and shying away from contact can’t be an option. They have to understand the hits are coming, and Boston won’t give up their conference crown without a fight.
It’s understood this is an analytical and data-driven world we live in these days, and the thirst to look go next-level in statistics is here to stay. Sometimes, diving deep into numbers is not needed, and good, old-fashioned heart and desire is what will win a lot of these contests, particularly in the playoffs.
Ultimately, it’s the scoreboard that matters, but the path taken is what really counts. Anyone who saw Game 1 of the Hawks-Celtics series know Boston was the tougher and more physical team. Atlanta has to have the mentality of one that says they will meet them halfway, or it will be time for offseason activities in short order.
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