Kyrie Irving Drops 24 as Celtics Cruise Past Trae Young, Hawks 129-108

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2018

Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, right, drives past Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, left, in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The Boston Celtics continued their run as the NBA's hottest team Friday night with a 129-108 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden in Boston.

The C's have now won eight in a row, which is the longest active winning streak in the league. With the victory, they improved to 18-10 on the season.

Boston stymied Hawks rookie guard Trae Young who finished just 2-of-11 from the field and 0-for-6 from three-point range for nine points with three assists and three rebounds after enjoying one of his best games of the season against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.

Atlanta has now dropped six of its past seven games. The Hawks continue to dwell near the bottom of the Eastern Conference at 6-22.

As usual, the Celtics employed a balanced offensive attack with the entire starting lineup and several bench players contributing significantly on that end.

Guard Kyrie Irving racked up a game-high 24 points with five assists, five rebounds and four steals, while Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris also had big scoring performances with 22 and 20 points, respectively.

Additionally, small forward Gordon Hayward continued his recent improvement with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting off the bench.

Boston was without center Al Horford on Friday, who missed his fourth consecutive game with a knee injury.

There weren't many bright spots for the Hawks, but rookie guard Kevin Huerter did turn in the best performance of his young career with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including going 5-for-8 from downtown.

Atlanta fell behind early, as the Celtics opened up a 42-19 lead after just one quarter.

Irving dominated the defensively deficient Hawks in the first quarter with dazzling plays such as this dribbling display and score:

Atlanta also offered little resistance when it came to getting to the rim, as evidenced by this wide-open jam from center Aron Baynes:

While the Hawks were awful in the first quarter, they did make some headway in the second behind Huerter, second-year forward John Collins and veteran center Dewayne Dedmon.

Atlanta went on a 19-0 run in the second, which put a huge dent in Boston's lead.

Dedmon did some especially good work with a pair of dunks against some lax interior defense by the Celtics:

Atlanta outscored Boston 37-25 in the second and cut the deficit to 11 entering halftime.

The momentum gained by the Hawks was short-lived, however, as the Celtics went on a 10-0 run to start the third quarter. Tatum spearheaded the resurgence with 15 of his points in the third.

That allowed Boston to carry a 108-82 lead into the fourth quarter, which turned out to be an insurmountable deficit for Atlanta to overcome.

Celtics Back Among Eastern Conference's Elite Amid Winning Streak

Boston entered the 2018-19 season with huge expectations, and although there have been plenty of ups and downs, the Celtics are finally showing why they were a popular pick to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

The Celtics are now 18-10 after a 10-10 start, putting them firmly in the mix with the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers behind the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

There were moments of both brilliance and disappointment during Friday's game, as Boston dominated for periods and also went cold from the field at times.

A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston noted how some struggles were bound to occur given the Celtics' recent excellent play:

Although it can be argued that Boston's level of competition has been low over the past couple of weeks with wins over teams like the Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks, it is difficult to ignore their offensive excellence.

The Celtics have now scored 113 or more points in every game during their winning streak.

On Friday, much of their offensive success was owed to an explosive first quarter that Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe summed up:

The second quarter was something of a wake-up call, but Dan Greenberg of Barstool Sports put the first-half performance into perspective:

Perhaps the most impressive part of Friday's win was the manner in which they bounced back from a disappointing second quarter.

Boston went on a 10-0 run to open the third quarter, which ensured the Hawks would be unable to make a true game of it.

The Celtics have the ability to overwhelm their opponents when they are firing on all cylinders, and elements of that were evident against the Hawks.

Boston is still learning how to properly utilize all the talent it has on its roster, but it is winning games while doing so, which suggests it has the pieces in place to be a contender.

Celtics Should Keep Surging Hayward in Bench Role Moving Forward

It is likely no coincidence that Boston's recent run of success has coincided with Hayward coming off the bench in favor of Morris starting games.

That configuration has been a revelation for the Celtics, and it worked to near perfection against the Hawks.

Hayward played just 18 minutes Friday, but he was highly effective, and Jay King of The Athletic noted that he has been coming into his own as of late:

While Hayward missed the previous two games with an illness, there has been a lot to like about his play recently compared to his early-season struggles.

In addition to Friday's performance, Hayward dropped 30 points on the Minnesota Timberwolves two weeks ago.

Celtics reporter Marc D'Amico suggested that assertiveness is primarily what has contributed to Hayward finding his groove:

Part of that may be attributed to the move from the starting lineup to the bench since it has taken some pressure off the one-time All-Star after missing essentially all of last season with a gruesome leg injury.

In addition to Hayward improving in a bench role, Morris has blossomed as a starter and played better than he has in his entire NBA career.

Head coach Brad Stevens seems to have found a combination that works, and there is still a ton of room for improvement in terms of figuring out how to truly get Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown going.

While coming off the bench has been tough for Rozier and Brown, Hayward is embracing it, and there is no reason to shy away from it given his success.

The one negative regarding Hayward on Friday was the fact that he went to the locker room in the fourth quarter after getting hit in the face by Collins, per Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

Hayward did not return to the game with Boston holding a big lead, but he did return to the bench, which suggests there may not be a major issue.

Provided Hayward is healthy and able to play moving forward, he has found a home on the bench that shouldn't be disturbed.

What's Next?

The Celtics will look to keep their winning streak going when they face the struggling Detroit Pistons on the road Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Hawks will travel to Brooklyn to take on the Nets on Sunday.

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