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Three takeaways from Celtics’ Game 6 win to eliminate Hawks

The Hawks put up more of a fight than many outside Atlanta expected — and Trae Young reminded everyone of the potential of his game — but in the end the Boston Celtics pulled away in the final minutes to beat the Hawks 128-120 in Game 6. That gives the Celtics the series 4-2.

Here are three takeaways from the Celtics’ Game 6 win.

1) Marcus Smart put the brakes on another Trae Young game

Dejonte Murray returning from suspension made a nice storyline, but if the Hawks were going to force a Game 7 it would be because Trae Young dominated again — and for a half he did. Young had 25 points with four 3-pointers in the first half and it was a one-point game at the break.

Then Marcus Smart happened.

“Marcus was being way more aggressive and wasn’t leaving me as much…" Young said. “In the 2nd half, he was just more connected to me.”

Young had five points on 1-of-13 shooting after halftime, plus he had some ugly moments like a rough time inbounding out of the corner late in the game. It took more than just Smart to slow Young, but this was the kind of team defensive effort that we didn’t see enough of from Boston in the first round —and they had better bring a lot more of those against Philadelphia (more on that in No. 3 below).

2) Boston got a balanced performance, the Hawks got something to build on

Boston is the betting favorite in the East — thanks to the Heat sending the Bucks fishing — and a key reason is depth. There are no obvious, easy-to-exploit holes in their lineup, plus they can get scoring from a variety of places.

That was evident in Game 6: Jaylen Brown scored 32, Jayson Tatum added 30, Smart scored 22 plus played lock-down defense in the second half, Malcolm Brogdon scored 17, and Al Horford had a critical 10 points. There was balance.

Boston will need more of that going forward, but the way the Celtics roster racked up points in Game 6 was a reminder of what makes them dangerous.

For the Hawks, the playoffs were a step forward. They had a turbulent season with Young and Murray not being the natural fit, Hawks’ GM Travis Schlenk being let go, followed by coach Nate McMillan. Landry Fields is now running the front office, while Quin Snyder came in as the new head coach.

Snyder has at least won over Trae Young, which is a big first step.

The Hawks have some hard roster decisions coming up and are open to trading anyone on the roster — including Young. It’s unlikely he gets moved, but this is going to feel different next season with Snyder having a full summer and training camp to put in a more motion-based offense and start holding guys accountable on defense. Snyder has the power and Young has to be on board or he will be gone, but he seems to buy in. Actions will speak louder than words, but it’s a good start.

3) Hawks put up points on Celtics’ defense this series, is that a red flag?

For the first three quarters of Game 6, both teams had an offensive rating above 130 — not much defense was played. Eventually Marcus Smart and company got enough stops to get the win, but it was another poor effort on that end of the court by Boston.

The Celtics had a 115.5 defensive rating for this series, four points higher than their regular season average. Part of that was going up against the Young and the Hawks, who had a top-10 offense this season, but Boston was not the top three defense they were during the regular season. The Celtics were not sharp.

Is that a red flag? Because they are about to face the presumptive MVP Joel Embiid and his 33 points a game this season, plus James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and the third-ranked offense in the league these past 82 games. Philadelphia’s offense has more weapons and is a bigger threat than Atlanta’s.

If the Celtics defend against the Sixers like they did against the Hawks, they will not see the winner of the ‘90s throwback Knicks vs. Heat series in the conference finals. Boston’s defense has to be better than it was in the last six games.