Celtics gain footing in Game 3 of playoffs
The Boston Celtics finished 48-34 on the season landing them the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. This gave them a first-round playoff matchup with the 4th-seeded Atlanta Hawks, and a start to the series on the road. The first two games in Atlanta were rough. The Celtics started Game 1 slow, plunging into a deficit too large to recover from. Game 2 quickly developed into a blowout riddled with atrocious play. The Celtics needed a great performance in their first home game of the series, and they gave just that.
The C’s deviated from their normal starting lineup, replacing the injured Avery Bradley with Evan Turner and swapping Jared Sullinger for Jonas Jerebko. This gave them another strong ball handler and a shooter to try and bolster an offense that was anemic in the first few games. The benefits were reaped early on. The Celtics won the first quarter, outscoring the Hawks 37-20. They hit as many three point shots as they had in all of Game 2. Isaiah Thomas exploded early, finding shots both off the ball and as the dominant handler. As the quarter wound down, things got chippy between both teams. The players could sense how important this game was and often let their competitive side unleash in a flurry of hard fouls and constant barking. This intensity would not recede all game.
The second quarter saw back-and-forth between the two teams. The Celtics started the quarter playing its two rookies RJ Hunter and Terry Rozier. Although it’s unfortunate their opportunities came as a result of injuries, the two made exceptional contributions while on the court. Terry Rozier hit some big shots for the C’s and infused his energy through his defensive tenacity and work on the boards. RJ Hunter’s defense was a little more shaky, but the rookie made a few good plays on the other end of the court when it counted. The Hawks would come away winning the quarter by five points, but the Celtics would hold onto a double-digit lead (57-45) after the half.
The Celtics appeared to be gaining even more momentum as the third quarter started. They forced Atlanta into some regrettable turnovers and converted on the fast break heading the other way. The lead quickly swelled to 19 before Atlanta finally woke up and commenced a spectacular run. Jeff Teague slithered his way into the paint, getting to the line and launching a few floaters that found their way through the rim. Kent Bazemore seemed to either successfully cut to the basket or drill a jump shot whenever the ball swung his way. Al Horford, Kyle Korver, and Dennis Schroder found ways to contribute as well. The Hawks tied the game with a minute left in the quarter and would have kept it that way if it hadn’t been for a beautiful flip shot by Jonas Jerebko to beat the buzzer.
As the fourth quarter started, the Garden became electric. The place rocked with noise in support of the team. The beginning of the fourth was a back and forth battle. Kyle Korver drained a bunch of threes he found space for by sprinting around a myriad of screens and outrunning his assigned defender. Isaiah Thomas answered by continually finding a way to get a shot off or earning trips to the free throw line. What made the difference were some key defensive plays the Celtics made down the stretch, denying anything easy inside and coming away with many of the 50-50 balls. The extra possessions and fast break attempts were not wasted, allowing them to squeak out a large enough cushion to keep the Hawks out of it and win 111-103.
Isaiah Thomas finished the game with a career-high 42 points, and heard MVP chants all game long. His dominant play may not have been the sole reason for this win but it certainly played a large role.
The Celtics trail the Hawks 2-3 and will look to get even in Game 6 on Thursday, April 28 at TD Garden.