Celtics rally for impressive win over Hawks

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Celtics rally for impressive win over Hawks

ATLANTA Doc Rivers is a great talker, but he'll be the first to tell you that he's not cut from the Knute Rockne school of motivational speeches.

But there's no denying whatever he said inside the Boston Celtics locker room at halftime turned around Saturday's game against Atlanta - and potentially their season - as the C's put on one of the more improbable comebacks for them this season in rallying for a 89-81 win over the Hawks.

After trailing by as many as 19 points and 15 at the half, Boston came out in the third quarter with the kind of defensive focus we hadn't seen since Friday's blowout win over Indiana.

Friday's game was arguably the Celtics' most complete performance of the season, the kind of game you seldom see performed in duplicate.

Even Doc Rivers knew that.

But there are times when Rivers can be too prophetic for his own good.

Shortly before Saturday's tip-off, he talked about how Friday's win over the Pacers showed his players just how good they could be defensively.

"I don't know if you can play that well defensively every night," Rivers said.

Clearly the Celtics couldn't ... for a half at least.

The C's have had moments of dominant play all season, but stringing together such play for more than just a few minutes here and there has been challenging for them.

And while Saturday in many ways stayed true to that trend, the Celtics were able to put together longer stretches of stellar play than usual.

That, more than anything else, helped fuel one of the team's most impressive wins of the season.

And while many will look at the 33 points Boston scored in their 33-9 third quarter, it was limiting the Hawks to just nine points that quarter that fueled the team's impressive scoring binge.

Even in the fourth quarter as the Hawks tried to scramble back in the game, the Celtics defense was locked in at all positions.

And it wasn't just one player, either.

It was the entire group, on a string, helping one another out on switches and rotations - the kind of things that Rivers has been preaching to his troops to play all season.

Well it seems they may have finally figured it out, showing an ability to get it done for more than just one game after a forgettable first half.

Lou Williams practically outscored the entire Boston team in the first quarter with 16 points compared to the Celtics' total of 18.

Lay-ups. Jumpers. 3-balls.

Atlanta got everything and anything they wanted to offensively, and backed it up with some solid play defensively.

At the half, Boston trailed 53-38 and truth be told, the game felt as though the Hawks should have been up by a lot more points.

The Celtics used 11 players in the first half with each of them having a plus-minus ratio in the negative with the "best" of the lot being Courtney Lee who was minus-2.

As for the Hawks, it was their backcourt that totally dominated the game as Williams and Jeff Teague combined for 34 points in the first half on 14-of-20 shooting in the first half.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.