Hawks guard Dennis Schroder (17) helps Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) get up off the court during the first half at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
The Celtics might be able to skate past the dregs of the Eastern Conference, as they barely did Sunday night in Detroit.
But if Monday proved anything, come springtime, the Celtics are going to have to play bigger and tougher in the paint if they have any aspirations of extending play into May.
Dennis Schroder outplayed Isaiah Thomas and the Atlanta Hawks blasted the Celtics after Dwight Howard’s ejection in a 114-98 rout of Boston Monday night at TD Garden. Thomas had just two points in the fourth quarter and finished with 19, ending his franchise streak of games with at least 20 points at 43 games.
The Celtics, who hosted a beardless Julian Edelman next to their bench, were abused in the paint in the first half, getting outscored 28-14 and out-rebounded 32-21. Brad Stevens has said all season that he’s fully aware that his team will not be winning any rebounding battles.
But there comes a time and a place where getting overpowered eventually wears you down. That was the case Monday. When Isaiah Thomas is your leading rebounder through three quarters, Marcus Smart is your best low post option and the other team has Dwight Howard, that’s an issue.
If there’s any truth to the report from the Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach that Andrew Bogut, officially bought out Monday by Philadelphia, is interested in coming to Boston, the Celtics should do everything in their power to make sure he doesn’t leave Tuesday’s meeting without signing on the dotted line.
Monday’s game was much more than just a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back. It was about a bigger, stronger team taking it to them physically. Al Horford is a lot of things. A true big man he is not. Down 17 with six minutes left in the game, Stevens rested Horford, presumably to save him for the defending world champs Wednesday night at TD Garden.
For a full box score and summary of Monday’s game vs. Atlanta, click here.
The Celtics raced out to a 15-7 lead as Avery Bradley returned, showing the same sharp-shooting form he showed before his Achilles injury of early January that forced him to miss 22 of his previous 23 games. Bradley hit the first shot he took, a wide-open 25-footer for three from the left wing. As a matter of fact, the Celtics connected on their first three attempts from beyond the arc as they built the early cushion.
But Atlanta responded with an 11-0 run midway through the first quarter, turning a seven-point Celtics lead into a four-point hole.
Dennis Schroder and Isaiah Thomas seemed to put their running – sometimes acrimonious – rivalry to the side. It was Schroder who accused Thomas of disparaging comments during a January game directed at Schroder’s mother. Thomas vehemently denied this charge. The two had a very animated but civil exchange in which both appeared to smile and joust with one another.
Then, following a Thomas drive to the basket midway through the second quarter, it was Schroder who helped Thomas back to his feet.
Things were more intense in the second half. After Dwight Howard grabbed a driving Isaiah Thomas from behind on a move to the basket, Howard escaped a flagrant foul after review. Then, less than a minute later, as Howard was fighting for a rebound under the Celtics basket, Al Horford fouled Howard hard. Howard responded with a shove to the chest of Horford and was given a technical foul.
The Celtics then caught a huge break when Howard picked up up second technical of the game for hanging on the rim and flipping his head back on a dunk with 4:03 left in the third quarter. The dunk made it 74-65 Hawks.
Horford continues to do most of his offensive work on the perimeter. This paid dividends in the third quarter when he found a back-cutting Jaylen Brown for a crowd-energizing, alley oop dunk.
Without Howard, things only got worse for the Celtics as they trailed 84-71 after three. Boston fell behind by 17, 90-73, with just over nine minutes left.
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