ATLANTA — Joe Mazzulla had about two minutes to perform fairly a bit.
It was throughout the first timeout of Sunday’s Recreation 4 at State Farm Area — the Boston Celtics led by three factors after Derrick White‘s soar shot with 7:47 remaining within the first quarter pressured the Atlanta Hawks to request the break — when the Celtics coach walked to Jaylen Brown to ask what he was recognizing within the Hawks’ protection.
Mazzulla then rapidly turned his consideration, and his ire, to White, angrily reminding him of a blown defensive task in these first couple of minutes of play, staring him down whereas speeding to his assistants for the ultimate moments of sport planning.
That is the sort of fixed, relentless consideration Mazzulla and the Celtics say they’re going to require this postseason if they will recover from the ache of dropping final yr’s NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.
Boston managed to enhance upon sufficient positive particulars to beat the Hawks 129-121 and take a 3-1 collection lead heading again residence for Tuesday’s Recreation 5. It was the Celtics’ first alternative this postseason to answer a loss, testing the resolve the staff had spent all season constructing.
Friday’s Recreation 3 loss wasn’t a shock to the system like final season’s Recreation 6 residence loss to the Miami Warmth within the Jap Convention finals, which made Boston’s path to the Finals that a lot trickier, however it was sufficient to remind the Celtics of what it takes to expertise the same redemption story to the 2017 Warriors, 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers, 2014 San Antonio Spurs, 2012 Warmth, or any staff that misplaced within the Finals and used that reminiscence to drive it to a championship the next yr.
“Early within the yr [the Finals defeat] was gasoline, it actually bought us going,” Celtics huge man Al Horford informed ESPN after Recreation 4. “We sort of bought away from it a little bit bit. However now that we’re within the playoffs, we’re not addressing it as a gaggle, however after we discuss it individually, it is one thing that is nonetheless there.”
The main points the Celtics addressed in Recreation 4 had been primarily rebounding — the Hawks dominated the boards 48-29 in Recreation 3 — and cleansing up a protection that allowed the Hawks to shoot 56% from the ground.
The reply, in addition to further effort, was a rotation swap that noticed Horford and Robert Williams III again on the ground collectively, the way in which they spent most of final season.
Williams fights off his defender for a powerful and-1
Robert Williams III will not be denied as he will get the and-1 to fall to increase the Celtics’ lead.
This yr, the staff needed to play quicker and selected to share the middle spot between the 2. Sunday, Williams adopted his five-rebound efficiency in Recreation 3 with 15 boards to go along with 13 factors, two blocks and two steals in 22 minutes, 10 greater than Recreation 3. Horford grabbed 11 rebounds, and Boston turned that earlier throttling on the boards right into a 49-42 rebounding edge in Recreation 4 with one minor adjustment.
“That is what makes our group so versatile,” Horford stated. “There’s going to be some video games the place we’ve got to play collectively, and a few video games that we’ll have 4 guards and one huge. That is the power of our staff.”
The primary spherical is hardly the time for self-congratulation. In truth, if final yr taught the Celtics something, it was that the depth must escalate because the playoffs proceed. Final postseason, the Celtics believed they went the wrong way after sweeping Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets in an intense first-round collection.
“That wasn’t a conventional 2-7 matchup,” Celtics ahead Jayson Tatum stated after Recreation 4. “We swept them, however … that was the hardest sweep I’ve ever been part of.
“And I believe Recreation 1 in opposition to [the] Milwaukee [Bucks] final yr we bought our ass kicked as a result of it was a unique collection, a unique staff, extra bodily. It took us a sport to regulate. And I believe that sort of harm us and made it harder for us.
“By no means be too comfy with a lead as a result of each sport is simply as necessary. There have been a couple of instances final yr the place we sort of relaxed.”
Tatum’s Finals efficiency final season doubtless stays a big a part of his private gasoline. The Celtics’ main scorer averaged 21.5 factors per sport on 36.7% taking pictures and dedicated 23 turnovers in these six video games in opposition to Golden State.
He appeared the a part of a decided man Sunday, setting the tone for his staff defensively, ending with three blocked pictures, together with certainly one of Hawks huge man Clint Capela.
“We discuss it on a regular basis, simply do no matter it takes,” Tatum stated. “Typically these are extra rewarding than me hitting powerful pictures.
“To not brag, however I do this quite a bit. However these blocks actually get a response out of my teammates, and that actually will get us going.”
Tatum blocks Younger, resulting in a Jaylen Brown jam
Jayson Tatum denies Trae Younger on the basket, which units up a fast-break slam by Jaylen Brown.
The Celtics designed T-shirts that show the phrase “unfinished enterprise,” with the “is” in “unfinished” stylized to resemble an 18, as within the Celtics’ quest for an 18th championship in staff historical past.
It is a gimmicky reminder of a painful expertise. However the Celtics do not seem to require that graphic-T motivation.
“You are going to have moments the place you let down for a sport or two, however you may’t let that spiral,” Boston ahead Grant Williams informed ESPN after Boston’s Recreation 3 loss.
“That is the expansion we’ve got to have as a staff, particularly with the prior expertise. With the ability to go to the Finals, regardless of who was within the rotation — you need to have that perspective and talk that urgency.”