The Boston Celtics go for the season sweep of the visiting Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. But these Hawks are different than the ones that proved to be pushovers in the first three meetings.
Boston is coming off Thursday's 126-120 win over the Sacramento Kings and has won four of its last five games. Atlanta never trailed in its 132-111 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday and have won two straight.
Atlanta has emerged from the All-Star break with a new sense of purpose on offense. The Hawks are averaging 123.6 points in 11 games since the break, tops in the NBA over that stretch. The number is skewed by the 161 points they scored in their four-overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls, but the club has scored 120 or more in seven of those games.
Part of the reason can be credited to the continued growth of second-year forward John Collins and rookie point guard Trae Young. Collins averages 19.9 points and 9.8 rebounds and has 28 double-doubles, the most by anyone in the 2018 NBA draft class. Young averages 18.3 points and 7.8 assists. He had a triple-double last week against Brooklyn.
A big boost recently has come from the play of rookie guard Kevin Huerter, who has given the team its best 3-point scoring threat since Kyle Korver. Huerter's passing skills have been on display, too; his no-look pass to Collins set up a momentum-changing basket two games ago against New Orleans. Huerter averages 9.6 points and is shooting 39.4 percent on 3s.
"I try to stay aggressive and find the right shot," Huerter said. "The ball movement makes us a hard team to stop. It's really everybody starting to click and it all starts with unselfishness and ball movement."
While the Hawks are not in the playoff picture, the Celtics are trying to gain home-court advantage in the first round. The Celtics currently hold the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference, safely ahead of the Nets and Pistons, and within grasp of the No. 4 spot in the East.
Boston has dominated Atlanta this season. In the first win the Celtics scored 45 points in the first quarter. In the second game, Boston scored 42 points in the first quarter. In the most recent game on Jan. 19, the Celtics held the Hawks to only 38 points in the second half.
Boston's Kyrie Irving has been difficult for the Hawks to stop. He scored 32 points in the most recent win and has a career average of 25.6 points and 5.8 assists against Atlanta. Irving is coming off a triple-double against the Kings on Wednesday night, where he posted 31 points, 12 assist and 10 rebounds.
"It's going to be a dogfight no matter who we're playing against," Irving said.
The Celtics got Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart back in the lineup on Wednesday. Tatum missed a game with right shoulder pain and Smart had the flu.
"It's tough not being out there," Tatum said. "I want to play every chance I get."
--Field Level Media