The Boston Celtics will look to even their series at two games a piece tonight when they meet the Atlanta Hawks for Game four of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
In Game three this past Friday evening, point guard Isaiah Thomas erupted for 42 points – the ninth time in Celtics history that a player scored 40 points in a playoff game – and led the way to an 111-103 win for Boston.
However, the must-win game did not come without drama as Thomas and company nearly put themselves in a compromising situation.
After leading by as many as 20 points, the Celtics nearly blew that lead in the fourth quarter. Also, Thomas and Hawks guard Dennis Schroder got into an altercation in the first quarter on Friday, leading many to believe that the 5’9 Celtics guard would face a suspension.
Schroder believed that Thomas should be suspended for his actions, but the league ruled the play a flagrant-1 foul. Thomas voiced his concerns about possibly missing time during Saturday’s practice but said that NBA's decision was "the right call."
"How much [the Hawks] were complaining about it [after the game], yeah," Thomas said to ESPN following the announcement that he wouldn’t be suspended.
"I'm focused on Game 4, man. They made the call of what it was, a flagrant-1, whatever it was. I'm glad I'm able to play."
The Celtics will also look for another solid contribution from Jonas Jerebko. The 29-year-old native of Sweden made his first start of the year in the Celtics’ Game three win, contributing 11 points and 12 rebounds. However, it was Jerebko’s athleticism that made a difference.
As Boston head coach Brad Stevens told NBA.com after the game, Jerebko’s defense and playmaking ability allowed other Celtics players to enjoy productive evenings.
"He plays really, really, hard," Stevens said. "He's got versatility with regard to defensively. It's really hard to switch onto [Jeff] Teague and [Dennis] Schroder, but all of our bigs have to do that some as they get going downhill on you.
"And then his scoring is just a plus. You know, if he scores, he scores; if not, he's still spacing for us."
Stevens’ decision to bench Jarred Sullinger and Marcus Smart in favour of Evan Turner and Jerebko paid immediate dividends. It's expected that both men will get the starting assignments on Sunday as well.
Looking to overcome a 2-0 start to a series for just the second time in franchise history, the Celtics will look to keep the Hawks at bay and return to Atlanta for Game five with an even series.
Jeff Teague (19.7 points), Kent Bazemore (16.0 points, 8 rebounds), and the aforementioned Schroder (9.3 points) have played well through the first three games.
Teague is 20-for-22 from the free throw line, Bazemore has twice scored at least 20 points, and Schroder scored 20 points in just 22 minutes on Friday.
Also, sharpshooter Kyle Korver has been productive from beyond the arc by shooting 43 percent – an improvement over the 39 percent he posted over 80 starts during the regular season.
All-Star’s Paul Millsap and Al Horford - both of whom scored just eight points in Game three - did not help Atlanta's chance on Friday. Millsap, in particular, has not been sharp this series, scoring just 26 total points on four-of-21 shooting after averaging 17.1 points over 81 regular season games.
"I don't think we defended them well enough," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said after the loss.
"It seemed like there were a few plays where we could finish better in the paint, take care of the ball better, make better decisions. ... Who was out there, who wasn't I don't think it's quite as impactful as us needing to be better and Isaiah Thomas having a big night."
The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. tipoff. All information about viewing the game can be found here.