Ladies and gentlemen, we have a series.
After dropping Games 1 and 2 of their first-round NBA playoff series at home in embarrassing fashion, the top-seeded Boston Celtics responded Friday night with an emphatic 104-87 victory over the Chicago Bulls in Game 3 at the United Center.
With Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo out — and possibly done for the series — with a fractured thumb, Chicago’s offense lacked the punch it showed at TD Garden. The Bulls assisted on just 14 baskets to the Celtics’ 37, and Rondo’s two replacements (Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams) combined for just eight points.
Al Horford finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals to pace the Celtics, and Avery Bradley chipped in with 15 points, seven assists and seven boards while playing lockdown defense on Bulls star Jimmy Butler. Butler finished with 14 points but went just 7-for-21 from the floor.
In a surprising move, Celtics coach Brad Stevens chose to replace starting forward Amir Johnson with Green, who hadn’t started a game all season and had played just six total minutes in Games 1 and 2. It was the 31-year-old’s first start since April 2, 2016.
Green briefly left the game late after rolling his ankle late in the second quarter but returned to start the second half. Johnson played just six minutes in the game.
TALE OF TWO QUARTERS
The Celtics dominated the opening quarter, burying 7 of their first 11 3-pointers to take a 33-15 lead into the second. All but two of those points came from members of Boston’s new-look starting five, including 10 by Jae Crowder and eight from Bradley.
It was the Celtics’ highest-scoring quarter of the postseason — and the Bulls’ lowest-scoring frame.
Equally encouraging was the Celtics’ work on the glass, as they grabbed nine rebounds to Chicago’s seven in the first quarter and relinquished just two offensive boards. After getting battered inside in Games 1 and 2, this was a step in the right direction.
Momentum shifted drastically in the second, however, as the Celtics shot just 22.7 percent from the floor (5 of 22) and were outscored 26-11. Boston, which went just 1-for-8 from deep the quarter, entered halftime nursing a 44-41 lead.
Dwyane Wade spearheaded Chicago’s comeback, scoring 14 first-half points while the rest of the Bulls’ starting lineup combined for just 15, including a mere two by Butler.
Speaking of silent stars, Thomas struggled to find his stroke in the first 24 minutes, managing just six points on 3-of-10 shooting.
Thomas began the second half by drilling back-to-back 3-pointers. It was a sign of things to come, as the diminutive dynamo led a Celtics charge in the third. Boston outscored Chicago by 10 in the frame and took a 76-63 lead into the fourth.
Horford also had a strong third quarter, highlighted by one sequence in which the big man gathered consecutive offensive rebounds, setting up this beautiful hesitation layup by Thomas:
Horford followed that up with a layup of his own after a Chicago turnover, stretching Boston’s lead to 12 and prompting the Bulls to call timeout.
Overall, though, this was a relatively quiet night for the Celtics’ leading scorer. Thomas finished with just 16 points, his second-lowest total of the season. He also did not shoot a single free throw.
SHUTTING THE DOOR
Boston also received significant contributions from its bench in the second half. After combining for just four points over the first two quarters, the Celtics’ reserves put up 27 after halftime, including 12 of the team’s first 15 points in the final frame.
Terry Rozier was particularly productive for the C’s, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting (3 of 5 from deep) a plus-19 rating.
The Celtics will look to draw even in the best-of-seven series Sunday in Game 4. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. ET.
Thumbnail photo via Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports Images