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Celtics notch playoff win

Atlanta leads series 2-1. Game four is Sunday 6:00 P.M. in Boston.

The Boston Celtics looked like the team we saw beat the Golden State Warriors not too long ago, and they kept the Hawks from flying off with more success.

With a 111-103 win, the green treated their garden crowd to a much better game of basketball than they had been watching for the previous two games that were in Atlanta.  It was a fact that the Hawks just flat out did everything better than the Celtics in games one and two. But a complete flip of the script changes this series.  The Hawks win last night and go up 3-0, the series is virtually over, as no team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. But this Celtics win, completely changes everything.  It has to. The Celtics have their mojo back and with that mojo comes success. With this win, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens also gets his first career NBA playoff win; something that he has been after since becoming the coach of the Celtics in 2013.

Stevens knew that something had to change in order for the Celtics to have success against the Hawks in game three, and so he made a drastic change to the starting lineup, going with Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner, replacing Jared Sullinger and Marcus Smart.  Since starting shooting guard Avery Bradley got injured in game one, Stevens has had two different starting lineups, with game three’s having the most success.

Jerebko brought energy right from the get go, as Isaiah Thomas missed his first shot off the game, but Jerebko (or as Danny Ainge likes to call him the Swedish Larry Bird) came soaring in for the one handed put back dunk. The crowd roared as they knew they would be in for a good one.  Jerebko only made one three, but was able to open up the floor so that Thomas could get to the rim, as he had a career high 42 points.  He joins the likes of Ray Allen, Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Reggie Lewis, Paul Pierce Rajon Rondo, and JoJo White as Celtic players who have scored 40 plus points in a playoff game.

Thomas was honored to be mentioned with all the Celtics legends, “I was just trying to follow in the footsteps of all the Celtics greats. That starts by winning … and then winning championships,” Thomas said.

The Celtics were up by 17 in the first quarter, scoring more first quarter points (37) than the two first quarters combined of games one and two.  Their offense was able to open up in game three, and quite frankly explode, just as the Celtic faithful did on almost every basket of the game.  This game was also a physical one, and Thomas got into it with Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder.  Multiple flagrant fouls were handed out, but as Thomas said, that is just playoff basketball, “I’m not, because I didn’t mean to hit him (Schroder) in the head,” Thomas said. “He got mad, he was talking. But it’s playoff basketball, that’s what it’s about. I’m not gonna back down from anybody. And he knows that.”

Evan Turner also had a great game, as he netted 17 points, seven assists, five steals, and was also a plus 11 in plus/minus.  Turner primarily handled the ball during the game, which let Thomas play more of a wing position off the ball, and that was where he really excelled hitting three after three in the third and fourth quarters on his way to the best scoring game of his NBA career. In Atlanta, yes, the Hawks did slow down Thomas and take away a lot of his game, but with Jerebko spacing out the floor, it was a whole different story in game three.

The key to this series for me was Atlanta’s big men Al Horford and Paul Millsap, maybe the most underrated front court in the league.  Millsap has struggled all series long, shooting an abysmal 1-12 in game two, but coming into game three, Horford was averaging 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game.  But Horford did struggle in game three as he had just eight points. Celtics guard Marcus Smart got the crowd on its feet as he swatted away Horford on a drive attempt late in the fourth quarter, one of those plays that Smart seems to make on a daily basis.

If the Celtics can play the way they did in game three in game four, they should be able to tie the series up at two a piece.  Going back to Atlanta for potentially two out of three will be very tough, and I believe that the Hawks will still win in seven, but Boston has just made this series a bit more interesting to watch.

Celtic fans surely did gain more confidence after the game three win, but is the Celtics play enough to withstand a talented Hawks team in seven games?

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