With the threat of going down 3-0 very real, the Boston Celtics put the ball in Isaiah Thomas’ hands and let him go to work against the Hawks. Avery Bradley being sidelined with an injury hurt Boston, no doubt, but Thomas got even more shots and was given full reign of the offense. The Celtics would go on to beat the Hawks, 111-103, and now trail two games to one.
The explosion started early, and Thomas quickly poured in 16 first quarter points on 5/9 from the field. Boston shot 12/21 (57%) from the field as a team and had very impressive ball movement, tallying nine assists on their 12 field goals; they pounded Atlanta on the glass as well, outrebounding them 14-7. The Hawks simply shot poor in the first. Kent Bazemore had the worst performance and was 2/7 from the field with six points. Atlanta’s other leading scorer, Paul Millsap, had six points also on 2/4 shooting.
In the second quarter, the tables turned, and Atlanta’s shooting percentage jumped up to 52% (11/21) while Boston’s dropped to 35% (8/23). The Hawks outscored Boston 25-20 in the quarter behind six points from Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. Paul Millsap pulled in four of Atlanta’s 13 total boards, giving them a seven-rebound advantage. Thomas cooled off in this quarter, finishing with three points on 1/3 shooting; Evan Turner was the leading scorer with four on 2/6 shooting. Boston held a 57-45 lead at halftime.
The Hawks stayed hot through the intermission, came out in the third, and dropped 33 on the Celtics. Bazemore’s eight points were a high for the Hawks, who shot 55% from the field; Jeff Teague continued his scoring with seven. Boston shot poorly again and only put up 22 points in the quarter on 40% shooting. Despite 12 points from IT, he connected on just four of his nine shot attempts and had a plus/minus of -13. The Celtics’ lead was cut down to one entering the fourth, 79-78.
Clearly, Isaiah Thomas wasn’t letting his Celtics get beat. His aggression rose in the final period, and he shot eight of his 15 free throws in the fourth alone, connecting on six. From the field, Thomas was 2/3 and hit his only attempt from three, giving him 11 of Boston’s 32 points. Evan Turner was just as huge. Along with his seven points, Turner grabbed two boards, had three assists, two steals, and a block. The Hawks did their best to hang with the C’s and finished with a 25-point quarter. Kyle Korver was 3/5 from downtown and had a team-high nine points. Jeff Teague had six points, but on 2/7 shooting.
Thomas finished with a career-high 42 points, tying him with Calvin Murphy as the two shortest players to score 40+ in a playoff game (Murphy had 42 also). With his 42-point eruption, Thomas became the ninth Celtic (since ’64) to score 40+ in a playoff game. He joined four Hall of Famers, and two soon-to-be Hall of Famers: Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Jo Jo White, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. Reggie Lewis and Rajon Rondo are the other two.
Evan Turner was inserted into the starting lineup and registered 17 points and seven assists; Amir Johnson had 15 while Jonas Jerebko and Marcus Smart each had 11. Jeff Teague had 23 to lead the Hawks; both Bazemore and Schroder got 20 on 16/33 combined shooting.
Game four is Sunday, April 24, in Boston at 6:00 PM EST.