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Historically Bad Start Dooms Celtics In Game 2

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- The first half of the Celtics' Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks was bad. Their first quarter of Game 2 was far, far worse.

The Celtics' first quarter on Tuesday night was historically bad, with their seven points a franchise low in 603 postseason games. It was the worst start in modern NBA playoff history.

It was a struggle to get those seven points too, as Boston shot just 3-of-23 to start the tilt. They were 0-of-6 on drives to the hoop, with three of those shots getting rejected by Hawks defenders. They hit just one of their first 12 shots from inside five feet.

Nearly eight minutes into the game, the Celtics had just one field goal.

Boston finished the night shooting 31 percent from the floor and 18 percent from three-point range in the 89-72 loss. While in Game 1 they settled for jump shots, they drove to the basket in Game 2. It didn't help much though, as the Hawks blocked 15 shots.

As the Celtics struggled to put the ball in the basket on one end in the opening frame, they looked just as lost on the other end. Kyle Korver hit four three-pointers, easily losing the Celtics defense for open looks. Granted, Korver was just 1-of-10 in Game 1 and missed all seven of his attempts from downtown, but the career sharpshooter is not the guy you want to give open looks. His 12 points in the opening frame helped the Hawks build a 24-3 lead, and that's with Atlanta going scoreless over the final five and a half minutes of the frame.

Have you heard enough? Well, unfortunately there's more.

The Celtics had just 28 points at halftime, another franchise postseason low. The Hawks gave them every opportunity to claw back into the game, never quite delivering that knockout punch, but the Celtics looked too dazed and confused to take advantage.

Marcus Smart, getting the start for the injured Avery Bradley, shot just 1-of-11. Jae Crowder was 1-of-9. Jared Sullinger shot 2-of-5 and only saw 14 minutes on the floor, starting the second half on the bench in favor of Evan Turner.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston's offensive lightning rod throughout the season, led the way with 16 points off 4-of-15 shooting, going just 1-of-6 from downtown.

The Hawks' lead never dipped to single digits over the final 45 minutes of the game, and now the Celtics trail the best-of-seven series 2-0 as things shift to Boston on Friday night. Boston can't start Game 3 any worse, right?

"They outplayed us in every category in that first quarter. That wasn't just the bad shots by any means. That was one team playing at a very elite level and one team not. We'll look at it and make the necessary changes, and we'll move forward. But as I told the team, we can't get off to starts like that," head coach Brad Stevens said after the loss. "The only part of the defensive effort that I was upset by was losing Korver a few times, and then the transition defense. But other than that, we really guarded. We just put too much pressure on ourselves to make shots later because every one of them mattered so much, just to have a chance to get back in the game. We can't start like that."

"It seems like that's just been our trend to come out slow," said Turner, who had 12 points off the bench on 5-of-12 shooting. "They came out, they played great. They got out running, it seemed like they came more prepared than we did. Kyle Korver came out, hit a couple three's. Their defense was going and that pretty much started the game basically. But they did great to start and it seemed like we came out slow."

"It never felt like we were at their level," added Stevens, now 0-6 in the postseason for his young career. "We're going to have to figure that out. We're going to have to get to their level and play a lot better Friday night."

The spotlight is on everyone as the Celtics head into Game 3 on Friday, from the top of the roster to the bottom. It may be shining brightest on Stevens, who said he'd re-watch Game 2 "without sound" and "without emotion" and hinted at changes to the lineup. It will be up to the coach to have his players ready and motivated from the opening tip on Friday night, and it's imperative to avoid a frustrating deficit in the opening minutes for the first time this series.

The Celtics made furious comebacks and dug themselves out of holes in the regular season, but things are much different when the playoffs arrive. Their slow starts in Atlanta have them in an 0-2 series hole, one that may be too much for the Celtics to overcome.

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