CHICAGO — As Friday’s game loomed over the heads of the rattled Boston Celtics, they received an unusual voicemail from the phone of long time head athletic trainer, Ed Lacerte. The surprising message came from one of the franchise’s most emotional, fiery, and intense alumni, Kevin Garnett.
Garnett had watched his former team from a distance this season and had to send a message. Lacerte first played the message to the only current Celtic who had played with the Big Ticket, Avery Bradley. Bradley immediately showed the passionate and expectedly so, expletive driven voicemail to Isaiah Thomas who agreed to make the message a priority for the team, prior to the start of a critical Game Three.
“It was everything… with him talking loud, you can only imagine how it got us pumped up,” Jae Crowder said. “He was excited, we were excited.”
The Celtics then took the floor and stormed out to an 18 point first quarter advantage and never really looked back. By mostly dominating the Bulls, Boston could go on to capture Game Three 104-87 and give themselves another shot in the series to take back home-court advantage.
So, what happened? Was a switch thrown on for the Celtics? Did Isaiah score 40? Did Boston somehow outrebound Chicago?
No. No to any of that.
An important factor that cannot be overlooked was the late absence of Rajon Rondo going forward in the series. Rondo, who had torched Boston with his energy, defense, and knowledge of the Celtics, had to be sidelined indefinitely after breaking his right thumb in Game Two.
With their floor-general out for the foreseeable future, Chicago is forced to throw the likes of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams to run the offense for a team that can often become isolation focused. Rondo’s replacements combined for just 8 points, 4 assists, on 3 for 10 shooting in 38 minutes.
“One hundred percent, it’s a totally different team (without Rondo),” Crowder said.
Boston was able to attack Chicago’s once stifling defense with more floor spacing with the surprising addition of veteran swingman Gerald Green into the starting lineup. This incredible spacing left wide-open driving lanes for Thomas off the dribble and allowed Boston to live or die by kick out open threes which they had not been making with consistency back in Games One and Two in Boston.
For the first time all series Boston hit open shots with solid consistency. This is a great sign moving forward as the Celtics were leading all Playoff teams with perimeter shot attempts and were able to capitalize for 51 points from behind the arc in Game Three. If the Celtics can hold on to this type of effort and ball movement, this series is in jeopardy of slipping out of Chicago’s hands.
With a balanced attack, five players ended the night in double figures for Boston. This is the Celtics team that won 53 games in the regular season and torched their opponents with relentless team basketball and ingenious ball movement which can produce ridiculous stat lines, like that of an 83% assist rate on all their made baskets.
Chicago’s Jimmy Butler was hounded all night by Avery Bradley who completely took out the three-time All-Star and held him to 14 points on 7-of-21 shooting. “Avery had a great game… I couldn’t take him out,” Brad Stevens said. No one on the Bulls could hit 20 points as Boston forced 18 turnovers and held their own on the offensive glass, despite being outrebounded by 12.
Boston played with purpose and had fun on both sides of the floor for the first time all series. A smiling and energetic Isaiah Thomas was a breath of fresh air for a once tense and mournful Celtics squad. Rallying behind each other, Boston has the momentum in the series and the pressure is back on Chicago to avoid doing what Boston had done just prior, losing both home games. “We weren’t coming here hoping to get a win. We knew we were coming here to win both games,” said Bradley following the Game Three win.
The Celtics are still behind in the series. However, the positive takeaways of a relaxed and focused team taking a game on the road amidst internal turmoil and pressure cannot be overstated. Boston now knows they can beat this Playoff Bulls team and must go out Sunday night and prove it once more.
Game One: 106-102 Bulls
Game Two: 111-97 Bulls
Game Three: 104-87 Celtics