"We feel like we haven't even started to play our brand of basketball yet" are the words that came out of Boston Celtics Captain Paul Pierce's mouth Wednesday afternoon.
Well, Paul, did this game change your mind?
Glen Davis' stat-stuffing night (14 points, nine rebounds, six assists, six steals, three blocks) was overshadowed by Rajon Rondo's dominance.Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty
The Celtics raced out to an early lead Thursday night and dominated the Bulls for the entire 48 minutes en route to a 107-86 blowout win in Game 3. The series has now swung into the Celtics' favor and they have retaken home court advantage.
Pierce came out of the gates on a mission to put the Celtics ahead in the early going and he did just that. He scored 13 points in the first quarter on 6-of-7 shooting, draining an array of shots that gave Boston the early momentum and took the rowdy Chicago crowd out of the game immediately.
"I thought he set the tone for us," said Doc Rivers. "I thought he came out extremely aggressive and attacked early. He played the perfect decoy but was aggressive at the same time."
From there, Pierce handed the reigns off to his team's defense and his point guard, Rajon Rondo.
Known for their defense, as the top defensive field goal percentage team in the league, the Celtics had struggled in the first two games of this series, allowing over 100 points in each of the first two games. Rookie point guard Derrick Rose had a breakout performance in Game 1 and Ben Gordon dropped 42 in Game 2. But tonight, this was a different Celtics defense on the floor. This was the real Celtics defense.
At halftime, the Bulls had already racked up 14 turnovers, thanks much in part to the active hands of Rondo and big man Glen Davis. Rondo had two steals and Davis four in the first half. Chicago managed to shoot only 32.4% in the first half and tallied only five assists as a team, well off of their pace of 20.0 APG this series.
While Rondo and Davis were taking away Chicago's passing lanes, they were also running the show at the other end of the floor. Rondo scored 16 points in the first half while drilling deep jumpers from both sides of the floor. Davis continued his consistent play on offense and had eight points in the half. The two combined for 12 rebounds over the first 24 minutes (eight for Rondo, four for Davis).
When all was said and done in the first half, Boston had opened up a commanding 59-37 lead and went into the locker room with as much breathing room as they've had in weeks. At the same time, they sent a message to the Bulls and may have rattled them in the process.
"They are a veteran team, defending champions and they play on the road as well as anyone," Vinny Del Negro said after the game. "I though we lost a little confidence, especially the young guys."
When the second half began, it was more of the same. Rondo opened up the half by assisting on a Ray Allen jumper and just seconds later tossed a frozen-rope outlet pass to Davis, who was fouled on the fast break and added on a free throw to make it 62-37.
The aforementioned Gordon did his best to bring the crowd back into the game and shoot a little bit of life into his teammates' arms with a quick 7-0 run over only 1:00 of play. That spurt cut the Celtics' lead to 70-50 with 6:52 remaining in the third.
But after a missed three-pointer that would have sliced the lead down to 17 and put the Bulls within striking distance, Boston answered with an 8-0 run of their own that was led by back-to-back threes by Allen and Pierce, respectively.
That answer put the C's back up by 28, putting the game out of reach for good and giving Chicago fans even less to cheer about. By the time the middle of the fourth quarter rolled around, Boston had extended their lead to 34 and removed their starters from the game.
In lieu of a blowout victory, Pierce was pleased with his team's play, but still warns that the Celtics can get even better.
"We felt tonight was the way we want to play," he said. "Offensively and defensively we were controlling the boards, we were causing turnovers, we were limiting their score options. We feel like we can still play better basketball."
Rondo, who notched a triple-double in Game 2, flirted with another one tonight and finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, not to mention five steals. It was the third consecutive game that Rondo has led or tied the team in rebounding.
His night may have been overshadowed by a fantastic all-around game by Davis, who was active in nearly every facet of the game. Davis led the team in minutes played (39) and finished with a ridiculous stat line of 14 points, nine rebounds, six assists, six steals and three blocked shots. It may not have been his career-high in scoring, but that is certainly the best box score stuffing he's ever done in his short two-year career.
Pierce's quick start helped him finish as the team's leading scorer with 24 points and was limited to only 27 minutes of play. Allen also pitched in 20 and Stephon Marbury scored 13 points to go along with five assists and three rebounds off the bench.
Overall, it couldn't have been a much more successful night for Rivers and his players. The starters played limited minutes, with no one other than Davis on the floor for more than 35 minutes. The Celtics defense forced Chicago into 22 turnovers compared to 14 assists and limited Rose and Gordon to a combined 24 points, five rebounds and three assists on 9-of-27 shooting.
"I was thrilled with the way we played," said Rivers.
"We were more concerned with ourselves and for two days I heard we couldn't play defense. And our guys came out and played well tonight and I thought it was terrific."
Rivers was also able to give his bench extended minutes down the stretch, allowing Eddie House to find his range (eight points, 2-of-5 three-pointers) and Brian Scalabrine to get his first playng time since February 23.
After such a convincing performance, the Celtics will need to savor the victory tonight, but quickly put it behind them tomorrow. Boston has two days to prepare for a Game 4 that could potentially give them a commanding lead in the series. That game will take place at 1 p.m. EST Sunday afternoon in the United Center and will be broadcast on ABC.