Five observations from the Hawks’ 114-98 victory over the Celtics Monday.
1. The Hawks won despite losing Dwight Howard to ejection in the third quarter. Howard was having a strong game when he picked up a technical foul with 9:31 remaining for shoving Al Horford after he was fouled. He picked up a second technical foul for hanging on the rim with 4:03 remaining in the quarter. Two technicals, 5:28 apart, and Howard was gone.
“I apologized to the guys,” Howard said. “I have to do a better job of keeping my composure. And they understood. … I have to do a better job of after I get one trying to scale back. I was just trying to be aggressive and try to send a message. I apologized to the team for that mistake. I’ll continue to be as aggressive as I can.”
Howard would not specify what caused him to shove Horford other than his emotions got the best of him. Howard was taken aback by the second technical.
“That should be more of a warning,” Howard said. “I did the same thing in the first half and nothing happened.”
2. The key to the victory was how the Hawks responded to the Howard ejection. They led 55-54 at the time of the first technical. They led 74-64 at the time of the second technical. They did not buckle as the TD Garden got loud – as it did for much of the game.
“They gathered themselves and said ‘We need to keep this going,’” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Dwight was a big part of getting the 10-point lead. We just wanted to bring it home for him and all of us.
“I think the first technical, we want to bring an edge to the game and a physicality but we can be smarter and not pick up technical. Dwight is playing like that we’d love to have him for 48 minutes. Hanging on the rim, I guess it’s just the emotion of the moment. The way the team responded, everybody appreciated what Dwight did up until that point.”
Howard now as 11 technical fouls this season and there is a one-game suspension for a 16th technical foul and another one-game suspension for each two technical after that.
3. The Hawks played with an edge – from the start. Howard’s technical fouls aside, the Hawks played a more competitive defense. Isaiah Thomas had his streak of consecutive 20-point games snapped at 43. He finished with 19 points. The rest of the Celtics starters combined for 23 points with Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Horford with six points each and Amir Johnson with five points.
“That’s our staple,” Paul Millsap said. “That is who we are. We have to bring that type of intensity every single night. That shows how good we can be on the defensive end.”
The defensive identity came from the start. It was a concerted effort, players said.
“The energy, the mindset,” Thabo Sefolosha said. “We came in from the very first minute wanting to win the game. And it showed. That’s just the way we have to play every night.”
4. Dennis Schroder did not let Thomas get the best of him. Returning to the starting lineup, Schroder put aside his personal feud with Thomas. He scored a game-high 21 points, including eight in the first quarter. The first basket of the game came as Schroder drove past Thomas for a layup.
“I think that everybody was a little (ticked) off because of the last two games,” Schroder said. “Everybody played together. I came back in the starting lineup and everybody was on the same page from the start.”
Schroder was booed during pregame introductions and the first time he touched the ball. The Garden crowd didn’t get on him much after that as he was busy getting the better of the Celtics.
Schroder even played peacemaker during the dustup between Howard and Horford.
And as for the trash talking between him and Thomas?
“We just talked like I talked to every player,” Schroder said. “Nobody was talking trash.”
5. The Hawks were not affected by the loud fan base. Not when they trailed by eight in the first quarter. Not during the on-floor incident. Not when the Celtics crept back in the game when the Hawks got some separation.
“Just not getting caught up in it,” Millsap said. “I think we stayed focused throughout the whole game. The crowd was really loud out there. There was one point where I said ‘Wow, this is a loud arena.’ But I’m glad guys were able to keep their cool.”