New Starting Five Ignites Boston's Game 3 Win
BOSTON – Brad Stevens has never placed a significant amount of importance on which Celtics start and which Celtics come off the bench. At least until Friday night.
Stevens dropped a bomb during his pregame press conference by notifying the public that he would alter 40 percent of his starting lineup for the opening tip of Game 3. Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner got the call to start alongside Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger, meanwhile, were relegated to reserve roles.
“Oh, they’ve played a whole 33 possessions together,” Stevens joked after breaking the news. “They’re plus-20!”
Make that plus-25 over 45 minutes of action after Friday night.
The new starting group accomplished exactly what it set out to do, and that was to ignite Boston’s offense. Jerebko’s shooting and Turner’s slashing opened things up for the C’s and led to quality look after quality look.
“It just gives us space,” Thomas said of the new starting five, shortly after he notched a career-high 42 points during an unforgettable performance. “I think Brad is just big on space and being in attack mode – catch-and-go. He’s always talking about catch and attack the paint or pass or shoot it.”
This group did exactly that over the first six-plus minutes of the game.
Boston jumped out to a 21-13 lead before Stevens made his first substitutions at the 5:21 mark of the first quarter. The starters made eight of their first 13 shots, including four 3-pointers and two monster slams, one by Jerebko on a putback and one by Johnson off of an alley-oop.
Three nights after scoring seven total points during the first quarter of Game 2, the new starting five had tripled that number in less than six minutes of action.
That’s all the Celtics needed to find their stride for the night. They wound up shooting 46.3 percent from the field in the game while making 11 3-pointers.
Over the first two games of the series, Boston shot worse than 46.3 percent during six of the eight quarters while making a total of only 16 3s.
Thomas, who looked like himself again while playing in open lanes, credited Jerebko as the key to Boston’s offensive turnaround.
“He was the difference-maker,” Thomas said. The point guard then added, “He spaced the floor for everybody. He is always in the right spots and it makes it tough to guard when you got a shooter like that to stretch the floor and knock down shots and also attack the paint, and he did a hell of a job tonight.”
Jerebko’s impact was not only felt at the offensive end. He provided endless energy that changed the tenor of the game.
The 6-foot-10 Swede pumped the Garden – and his teammates – full of energy with the very first basket of the night, a one-handed, putback slam off of a missed 3-pointer by Thomas.
“The first two games we came out flat and I just wanted to bring that energy at the start of the game and start the game off right,” said Jerebko, who finished with 12 rebounds, 11 points and four assists. “Got a little lucky there on Isaiah’s miss there and that started the game off right.”
Everything fell into place for Boston from there. The defense, thanks in large part to the versatility of both Jerebko and Turner, was fantastic. The offense, paced by ball movement, long-range shooting and Thomas’ incredible night, was at times unstoppable.
Now, as a result, the Celtics are heading into Sunday’s Game 4 with a chance to even this series up at 2-2.
They’ll attempt to do so with their new starting five, a group that has been used sparingly this season, but one that has proven to possess game-changing abilities.