The Boston Celtics surely did not need any extra motivation entering Friday night’s pivotal Game 3 against the Chicago Bulls, but they received some anyway from an old friend.
With the Celtics and staring at an 0-2 deficit in their first-round NBA playoff series and still recovering from the death of point guard Isaiah Thomas’ sister last week, Thomas used the words of C’s legend Kevin Garnett to fire up his teammates before they took the court at the United Center.
They had the desired effect.
After being embarrassed at TD Garden in Games 1 and 2, Boston responded by thrashing the eighth-seeded Bulls 104-87 to avoid falling into a precarious 0-3 hole in the best-of-seven series.
Celtics guard Avery Bradley relayed Garnett’s message in a postgame interview with ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
“Isaiah played a clip from KG before the game, and it kind of got us going a little bit,” Bradley said. “KG said some inspirational words for us, and it reminded us that (as) Celtics, we’re always supposed to be the hardest-playing team every single night, and we’re supposed to use Isaiah’s family as inspiration to come out and play hard for him and his family. And that’s what we did (Friday night).”
As Bradley explained when he returned to the locker room, Garnett is one of the many members of the extended Celtics family — a family the team’s current players certainly do not want to disappoint.
“It’s funny, because he was our leader when he was here,” Bradley told reporters, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com. “He’s still part of this Celtics family. For him to go out of his way to send us a message like that, that means a lot to all of us. Like I said, it was a reminder of Celtics family. We have to play a certain way, because they are watching. There’s a respect, the way that we play, and we have to play hard.
“Every single time we step on the floor, we have to leave everything out there. That has to be our mindset.”
The Celtics have not won a postseason series since Garnett and Paul Pierce left town in 2013. They were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015, then lost to the Atlanta Hawks in six games last year. A loss Friday would have put Boston one loss away from yet another first-round exit. Now, a win Sunday in Game 4 will send the series back to Boston tied at two games apiece.
Thomas scored just 16 points in Game 3 — his second-lowest total of the season — but his teammates picked him up. Al Horford led the way with 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals, while Jae Crowder chipped in with 16 points, and six boards and Bradley tallied 15, 7 and 7. Terry Rozier also contributed 11 points off the bench on 4-of-6 shooting.
Thumbnail photo via Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports Images