ATLANTA – Dikembe Mutombo had a courtside seat for Game 2 of the Boston-Atlanta playoff game.
But you would have thought the former Hawks shot-blocking specialist was on the floor when you see how the Hawks were swatting shots all over the floor (and stands) to the tune of a Hawks playoff-franchise record of 15 blocked shots.
Before you think that it was just a fluke consider this:
During the regular season, the Hawks were fourth in the NBA with 5.9 blocks per game.
But to put Atlanta’s block party in perspective, they are facing a Celtics team that has seen more than their share of shots pinned on the glass or swatted away this season.
According to NBA.com/stats, the Celtics had 5.5 of their shots blocked per game this season which was tied for the seventh-worst in the NBA.
Although the playoffs are still young, Boston has had 12 of its shots blocked in the two playoff games against Atlanta – more than any other team in the playoffs.
Hawks center Al Horford said the blocks had a lot to do with players being where they needed to be at that time to make the play.
“I feel like we’re in better position defensively to be able to make plays,” said Horford who had five blocks of his own in Game 2. “The first two games we’ve been successful at that.”
Horford attributes it to being part of the team’s emphasis on being their best defensively.
In addition to ranking fourth in blocked shots per game during the regular season, the Hawks had the league’s second-best defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 98.8 which trailed only San Antonio’s 96.6.
As good as the Hawks were defensively during the regular season, they have been even better in the two playoff games against Boston.
Atlanta’s defensive rating in the playoffs is 84.5 which ranks third in the NBA behind Oklahoma City (80.8) and San Antonio (78.6).
“I feel our defense has answered this challenge in the postseason,” Horford said.
And that success defensively has in part been fueled by the team’s across-the-board block party.
Coming into this series, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer knew his team’s ability to defend the paint whether it be by way of coverage or blocking shots, would be an integral part of his team’s chances of winning this series.
And while one might wonder if Isaiah Thomas being 5-9 has helped Atlanta get a higher-than-usual blocked shot count, Budenholzer said the blocked shots have more to do with his team having a renewed focus on exceling in that particular phase of the game.
“We’re trying to stress being active, we’re trying to stress how important it is to take away points in the paint, points at the basket,” Budenholzer said. “Isaiah Thomas is very clever, very crafty getting to the paint and finishing in the paint. He can score all the different levels. But if we can make it hard for him there, including not fouling him, that has been an emphasis. I don’t think it’s a matchup, just an emphasis.”