In must win games, teams look for their best player to get the job done. The Boston Celtics were in that position heading into game three against the Atlanta Hawks trailing two games to zero. Isaiah Thomas has carried Boston all season long, and has undoubtedly been the Celtics' best player all season.
Thomas didn't just step up today. He exploded.
The Celtics defeated the Hawks 111-103 in a very loud TD Garden on Friday night. Thomas had 42 points for the Celtics, a career high as well as the highest of any player so far during the postseason. Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 23 points. It was coach Brad Stevens' first playoff victory, and Boston's first since 2013.
The game was very physical, as there was three flagrant fouls called as well as two technical fouls. The most notable is when Thomas elbowed Dennis Schroder in the face, which he obviously did not like, and the two would eventually receive double-technicals for mimicking at each other for the next couple of minutes. There were just many plays that showed the toughness out of both teams, and it was very visible all game.
Celtics jump out to hot start
In the first two games, the first quarter has been a big weakness for Boston, which was a big reason for their two losses. In Game One, the Celtics finished with just 19 points shooting 7-26 and 1-9 from deep. Although it wasn't terrible, it certainly wasn't the way the Celtics wanted to start the postseason. Game Two, however, was atrocious. Boston finished the quarter with just seven points, shooting 3-23 and 0-6 from deep.
Today was a much different story, and a much better story for the Celtics. Boston finished with an unbelievable 37 points in the quarter, more than their first half in the previous two games. Jonas Jerebko got a rare start tonight, and made his presence known right away with a crazy putback dunk to score the first two points of the game. Thomas would drop 15 points in the first quarter. The Celtics outscored Atlanta 37-20 in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Atlanta would begin to battle back. Boston did start the quarter off well, stretching their lead to as big as 20. However, Atlanta would go on a 12-2 run, and would cut the lead down all the way to nine at one point.
The Celtics would still enjoy a comfortable 57-45 lead heading into the break after Amir Johnson hit a layup with two seconds left in the half.
Third quarter all Atlanta's
Heading into the break, the Celtics had all the energy in the world. The Garden was rocking, and there was a lot of momentum, and when the Celtics came out of the locker rooms, there was even more excitement. Boston would score the first seven out of the gate, and would stretch the lead back out to 19.
However, Atlanta responded, and did they ever. Atlanta would first go on to score the next ten as well, making the difference down to single digits once again. Boston would go on a stretch and Isaiah Thomas would make another ridiculous contested three that would bring the lead back up to 12 with 5:11 left in the quarter.
But since that point, it would be all Atlanta. They would end the half on a 13-4 run after Jerebko's last second layup, tying the score until the layup. Schroder had five of his 20 points during the run.
In the first minutes of the fourth, Atlanta would grab the lead for the first time since the score was 4-3. Kyle Korver would have 12 points during the stretch, hitting four treys.
Boston closes it out
As the fourth quarter went on, it was really discovered that it was simply Isaiah Thomas' game. Nobody could stop him. Thomas had 11 points during the period, drawing eight free throw attempts. The all-star got MVP chants from his Celtic fans.
It was a rough battle back and fourth until the end, but Boston's offense carried the team throughout the quarter and game. The Celtics outscored Atlanta 32-25 in the quarter. Evan Turner also contributed and had nine in the quarter.
Both teams struggled from deep, as Atlanta went 9-36 while Boston went 11-32. The Celtics slightly outshot and outrebounded Atlanta, shooting 46.3% to 44.2% and grabbed 41 rebounds to 44 boards. Paul Millsap and Al Horford had just 19 field goal attempts combined.
Game Four is Sunday night in Boston.