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After the Boston Celtics dropped Games 1 and 2 to the Chicago Bulls earlier this week, it was highly anticipated that Brad Stevens would make a change to his starting rotation heading into Game 3.
What was not expected was that Gerald Green would be player that Stevens would turn to Friday night.
Green, Boston’s eldest member, was 11th on the team in minutes played during the regular season. He did not even play during Boston’s Game 2 loss at TD Garden.
Stevens, however, displayed no hesitation when he made the shocking announcement before Game 3 at United Center.
"I trust all of these guys to play to their strengths and do what they do best,” said Boston’s coach ahead of tip-off. “I think that his strengths can help us."
Those strengths – being Green’s abilities to space the floor and drive to the rim at will – gave the Celtics exactly the spark they needed. The 31-year-old vet helped set the tone for Boston’s offense, and established a rhythm that would eventually carry it to a critical, 104-87 win over the Bulls.
The decision to start Green seemed to be a large risk heading into Friday’s contest. Many pundits thought the Celtics should go bigger in the frontcourt in order to curb Chicago’s massive rebounding advantage during the first two games.
Stevens, however, opted to go smaller. He removed big man Amir Johnson from the starting lineup and put Green at the 3, Jae Crowder at the 4 and Al Horford at the 5.
With those three playing alongside Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, the Celtics were able to open up the game with five shooters on the floor.
And shoot they did. Boston made seven 3-pointers during the first quarter and outscored the Bulls 33-15.
Green canned one of those treys and scored five of his eight points during the opening frame. His presence alone was of greater value than his personal stats, however, because he was able to open up the floor for Crowder, Bradley and Horford, who combined to shoot 6-of-6 from long range during the first 12 minutes.
“You have to account for Gerald because he’s such a good shooter,” Stevens reflected after the game. “He’s also a guy – he got our first basket driving to the basket – so you gotta guard him out there, and we needed as much space as we could get because you can’t be jammed up with their length.”
Chicago’s length was detrimental to the Celtics’ rhythm during the first two games of the series, but going smaller by adding another shooter proved to be the remedy for Boston.
“I think that coach did a great job of identifying that, making that adjustment, and that was a big risk going into the game,” said Al Horford, who tallied 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals. “We hadn’t played with Gerald much this year, but a lot of credit to him. He was ready to go and he was great for us.”
As Horford mentioned, the first unit did not have much experience playing alongside Green this season. In fact, the combination of Thomas, Bradley, Green, Crowder and Horford had only played 16 minutes together throughout the 82-game campaign.
That being said, the new starting unit was able to adjust quickly and seamlessly.
“I think it just made us more versatile,” said Horford. “I feel like adding Gerald, an experienced player that’s able to stretch the floor, shoot it, and then with me being able to attack and roll to the basket and create opportunities, I think that really helped us.”
Could adding Green to the starting rotation ultimately be Boston’s solution to getting over the hump against the Bulls? That is still to be determined. Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg noted the change after the game and said his team will make adjustments moving forward.
What is certain is that Green’s presence in the starting lineup was a game-changer for Game 3. At first it may have seemed to be a shocking addition, but in hindsight it turned out to be an ingenious move. As a result, the C’s are now just one win from tying the series regaining home-court advantage.