There was a lot of talk before game three that the Celtics would win it or lose it in the first quarter. They’ve been haunted by lackluster starts in the last couple weeks and have struggled to solve that problem.
On Friday night, Brad Stevens finally did something about it by shaking up the starting lineup. His most surprising decision, but also his most effective, was giving Jonas Jerebko his first NBA start since March of 2013. Jonas may not be the most skilled player on the Celtics’ roster but he plays his ass off and he can shoot the three, which opens up the floor so guys like Isaiah Thomas can penetrate.
I knew that the Celtics would need to come out and dominate the first quarter in order to have a chance to win. What I didn’t know was that Jonas Jerebko would be the difference maker who would allow that to happen. The energy that he brought as soon as they tipped off was absolutely crucial. It started on the first basket of the game when Isaiah Thomas missed a three and Jerebko sailed in for the one-handed put-back dunk:
The grimace on his face after he threw it down says it all. This man was AMPED to be in the starting lineup and was ready to impact the game in a big way with his intensity. Jonas also hit a big three to add to the C’s dominant first quarter in which they outscored the Hawks 37-20. What was most impressive was the work that he did containing the Hawks’ bigs and holding his own against them on the boards. He went into halftime with eight rebounds and ended up finishing the game with a double double. 11 points and 12 boards to go along with four assists and a blocked shot.
Amir Johnson was also strong down low with 15 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots. He and Jerebko worked together to hold Al Horford and Paul Millsap to eight points each.
Just how crucial was that quick start for the Celtics? Well, they were outscored 83-74 in the final three quarters. So I’d say it was pretty fucking huge. It’s been the same story in all three games of this series. One team dominates the first quarter and the other team gives everything they have to mount a comeback to the point that they don’t have the energy to close it out. Good starts are everything in the postseason and that has clearly been the case so far.
Stevens’ other notable lineup change was throwing Sixth Man of the Year candidate Evan Turner into the starting five. ET responded with 17 points, seven assists, and a game-high five steals.
As is often the case, Marcus Smart didn’t have an eye-popping stat line but was a vital part of the win. He did a little bit of everything with 11 points (3-6 FG), five assists, three rebounds, and two blocked shots. Unfortunately he was also fined $5,000 for this LeBron-esque flop:
The player of the game was obviously Isaiah Thomas who dropped a career-high 42 points, the most by a Celtic in the playoffs since Rajon Rondo’s 44 against the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Isaiah’s performance was so great that he deserves his own article, so there will be more on him later. He also got into a bit of a scuffle with Boston’s newest villain Dennis Schroder. Fortunately Dennis Schroder is not LeBron James so the NBA decided not to blow the series for the Celtics by suspending their best player. The Little Guy will take the floor in game four on Sunday night.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour