Derrick White leads historic C's block party in Game 2 win vs. Hawks


BOSTON -- The Celtics played strong defense in their Game 1 win over the Hawks on Saturday, but they also benefited from some abysmal shooting, as Atlanta made just 5 of 29 3-pointers.

So, when the Hawks drilled two 3-balls in the first two minutes of Game 2 -- more than they made in the first half of Game 1 -- it was clear that Boston would have to level up defensively to achieve a similar result.

That's exactly what happened Tuesday night at TD Garden, where the Celtics blocked 12 Hawks shots and snatched 10 steals in a 119-106 victory to take a 2-0 series lead.

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Only three times in franchise history have the C's blocked more shots in a playoff game. (The franchise record, since the NBA started recording blocks in 1973-74, is 16.) Only three times before Tuesday night had they recorded at least 10 steals and 10 blocks in the same playoff game -- the most recent contest coming in April 2009.

That's all to say the Celtics were in the Hawks' grill all night.

"Defending without fouling, rim protection, being physical and keeping the guy in front of you are really important," head coach Joe Mazzulla said after the game. "We have to do a better job on the glass, but we're making up for it in some other areas defensively with our active hands and our blocks."

While Atlanta snagged 19 offensive rebounds to Boston's five, those second chances didn't cost the Celtics -- in part because of their strong interior defense. The Hawks shot just 48.8 percent in the paint Tuesday night, a full 10.5 percentage points lower than what the Oklahoma City Thunder averaged as the NBA's worst paint-shooting team this season. (The NBA-leading Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets shot 70.5 percent from the paint.)

Leading the block party was Celtics guard Derrick White, who set up the highlight of the night by stuffing a Trae Young runner attempt and springing Malcolm Brogdon for a half-court bank shot that beat the first half buzzer.

White, who led all NBA guards in blocks this season, totaled three blocks Tuesday night and is up to five blocks through two games. Al Horford also tallied three rejections, while Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams each added two swats.

Not too shabby for a squad whose tallest rotation players (Williams and Horford) stand at "only" 6-foot-9.

"We've been a group that's hung our hat on defense all year," Brown said after the game. "I think we started the transition even when Brad Stevens was the head coach. We have a good defensive group. We play both sides of the ball, and we do it at a high level.

"Sometimes it goes unnoticed. Sometimes people depend on analytics to make their decisions. But when it comes down to it, in moments like this, this is where our defense matters the most: the playoffs.

"So, we're looking forward to showing what we can do on that side of the ball in these playoffs."

The Celtics may have a harder time blocking 7-footer Joel Embiid if they move on to face the Philadelphia 76ers in the next round. But in the meantime, they've done a bang-up job neutralizing the Hawks' third-ranked offense, particularly with their ability to defend the paint and contest (or erase) Atlanta's shot attempts.

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