CHICAGO – Just like that, the Boston Celtics are right back in their fist-round series against the Chicago Bulls.
Boston, which entered Friday night down two games to none in their best-of-seven series against Chicago, responded in Game 3 by logging a critical 104-87 win at the United Center.
The Celtics, who were clinging to life when they took off Thursday afternoon from Boston, are now breathing comfortably – and confidently – as they approach Sunday’s Game 4.
“We weren’t coming here hoping to get a win,” Avery Bradley stated with utmost confidence after the win. “We knew we were coming here to win both games.”
Step 1 of that quest is now complete, though it wasn’t easy. Boston needed to band together when the going got tough Friday night.
The Celtics zoomed out of the gates to a 33-15 lead at the end of the first quarter and eventually pulled ahead by as many as 20 points during the second period. Chicago, however, made its run, and by the early moments of the third quarter, Boston’s lead had been sliced all the way down to one.
The Celtics team that took the floor during Games 1 and 2 likely would have folded at that moment of adversity and allowed the Bulls to pull off a devastating comeback win. The Game-3 version of the Celtics, however, responded with a knockout blow.
Boston immediately strung together a 14-4 run to push the lead back to 11, and eventually to 20, as it cruised to its first win of the series.
“For us, the first two games, I feel like we didn’t handle it well when they made runs at us,” said Al Horford, who was outstanding during Game 3 while totaling game highs of 18 points and four steals to go along with eight rebounds and six assists. “I think tonight we were much, much more composed and just stayed with it with our game plan and it paid off.”
Added Brad Stevens, “I thought our poise was 10-times better tonight.”
Stevens’ comment is applicative to each of Boston’s nine players who were in the main rotation Friday night.
The starters, including new addition Gerald Green (eight points), played fantastic basketball at both ends of the floor. The bench, headlined by Terry Rozier (11 points, three rebounds) and Marcus Smart (seven points, six rebounds, five assists), carried the torch and fueled the team with energy.
This was an all-around team effort, one that was emblematic of the team that won 53 games and secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference during the regular season.
“We need everybody to play well. That’s really important,” Stevens said of his team’s balanced attack. “I think we got a lot of contributions from a lot of guys.”
The Celtics still trail in this series, but the circumstances of this matchup shifted dramatically Friday night. In just a day’s time, Boston controlled Game 3 while Chicago lost Rajon Rondo to injury and received a subpar performance from its star, Jimmy Butler (14 points, 7-for-21 shooting).
It is now Boston that has the momentum, a wave it intends to ride into a potential series-tying Game 4 Sunday night.
But if you think the Celtics are satisfied with where they stand, think again.
As Bradley stated, this trip is about securing two victories, not one, and his coach won’t let that goal be muffled by Friday’s convincing victory.
Asked what his message to the team was following the Game 3, Stevens was brief and stoic: “Got to play better in Game 4.”
The Celtics are already back in this series. If they play even better in Game 4, they’re going to regain control of this series as it heads back to Boston.