Despite getting routinely torched by the likes of Lou Williams and Jeff Teague and staring at as much as a 19-point first-half deficit, the Celtics were informed by coach Doc Rivers that they wouldn't make a single strategic change at halftime of Saturday's game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Rivers simply wanted his team to play with the effort it lacked over the first 24 minutes.
Boston responded with maybe its finest quarter of basketball this season, outscoring the Hawks by 24 points in the third quarter of what would eventually be a 30-point swing, and the Celtics emerged with an 89-81 triumph at Philips Arena.
"We didn’t do what we were supposed to do in the first half," said Rivers. "And I thought we made not one adjustment at halftime -- we just did it harder and better. I thought that was great for our team because, one of the reasons we haven’t been a good defensive team this year is we that we overreact and we change. The only way you can be a good defensive team is you have to be solid and consistent. It was a great lesson for our guys."
The Hawks' second-half shooting chart.
Even with a 15-point halftime deficit, the Celtics came out patient on offense and when their defense took the game over, they quickly whittled away Atlanta's lead. The Hawks were a mere 2-of-14 shooting (14.3 percent) in the third quarter, while Boston forced seven turnovers (which led to 10 points). While Paul Pierce did most of the heavy lifting, it was a Jared Sullinger alley-oop layup off a feed from Rajon Rondo that put Boston out front 61-60 with 3:47 to play in the frame. The Celtics didn't relent, building a nine-point cushion while closing the third quarter on an 8-0 run.
"I just thought we wanted an easy night. And [the Hawks] were playing too hard to make it an easy night," Rivers said of Atlanta scoring 31 first-quarter points and building that 19-point lead. "Every shot in the first half, it was a first-option quick shot [and] contested. Everything on defense, we were going under screens, we were not body-to-body, no physicality. In the second half, both ends were completely different.
"We worked a set -- the first play [of the second half], we went from one side to the other on offense. On defense, they were late in shot clock because Avery [Bradley] and Rondo both were up with ball pressure. It changed the game for us. Our ability, we are not a big team, but we have two guards, Rondo and Avery, that can literally change the game with ball pressure, and I thought they did that."
Williams and Teague combined for 34 first-half points on 14-of-20 shooting with five 3-pointers. In the second half? The duo combined for 11 points on 2-of-6 shooting with one triple. The difference? The Celtics offered more resistance, showing what can happen when they simply play consistent, full-throttle basketball.