Now that felt like a playoff game.
It started with a playoff adjustment — Boston’s Brad Stevens inserted Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko into starting lineup — and suddenly the Boston jumpers were falling. In what was the opposite of the first two games, this time it was the Celtics who raced out to the big lead (20 points), put up 37 points in the first quarter, and were getting role players who stepped up (Jerebko had a put back dunk to set the tone). With the jumper falling, the floor opened up for Isaiah Thomas (who also was working off the ball more), and he had 16 first quarter points.
But just like in the first game in this series, the team that was behind battled back. Atlanta went on a 12-0 run early in the third quarter and by the end of the quarter had taken the lead.
This was the best playoff game the season, and it had everything: big shots, physical play, technical fouls — including some overly touchy flagrant foul calls by the officials — and a lot of smack talking. It was just fun.
The night ended with a 111-103 Boston win behind 42 points from Thomas. Atlanta is up 2-1 in the series, and this sets up a crucial Game 4 on Sunday back at the Garden.
Boston pushed back in this one, and they battled and defended like we have come to expect from Stevens team. The difference was the shooting thanks to Jerebko (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Turner (16 points) — just having the threat of them out there created space that was missing with Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk out injured. Boston’s shooting was not great (8-of-19 from the midrange, 11-of-32 from three) but it was good enough to keep the Hawks from packing the paint on defense as they did in the first two games.
The Hawks front line of Paul Millsap and Al Horford did not have great nights, combining to finish with 16 points on 19 shots. Jeff Teague led the was for Atlanta with 23, Kent Bazemore had 20, and Kyle Korver added 17 despite being in foul trouble most of the night (he eventually fouled out). Atlanta needs to find ways to get Millsap and Horford looks they are more comfortable with in Game 4 — and those two need to knock down the bunnies they kept missing.
Boston can even this series with just a little more Garden magic. Well, that and keeping their jumpers falling.