Clever switch pays off

Boston guard Isaiah Thomas going up for a shot, as Atlanta guard Jeff Teague blocks him in Game 3 of their NBA Eastern Conference first-round play-offs at TD Garden. Thomas enjoyed a career-high 42 points in the 111-103 victory.
Boston guard Isaiah Thomas going up for a shot, as Atlanta guard Jeff Teague blocks him in Game 3 of their NBA Eastern Conference first-round play-offs at TD Garden. Thomas enjoyed a career-high 42 points in the 111-103 victory.PHOTO: REUTERS

Fresh starters Jerebko and Turner are key to Celtics' offence as Hawks' wings clipped

BOSTON • It was a masterstroke from coach Brad Stevens.

For the National Basketball Association (NBA) game against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, he changed 40 per cent of the Boston Celtics' starting line-up.

Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner started alongside Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson, while Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger were relegated to reserve roles.

Turner had 17 points and seven assists and Jerebko totalled 12 rebounds, 11 points and four assists as the Celtics' offence was transformed. Johnson delivered 15 points and seven assists and Smart had 11 points and five assists.

The Celtics also got a career-high 42 points from Thomas, as they breathed life into their play-off chances by beating the Hawks 111-103.

Stevens' side blew a 19-point third-quarter lead but held on for a wild victory - presenting the coach with his first career NBA play-off win in seven attempts and cutting Atlanta's lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.

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  • Points Boston scored in less than six minutes in Game 3 - triple that in that abysmal first quarter of Game 2

The new starting group accomplished exactly what it set out to do - ignite Boston's offence. Jerebko's shooting and Turner's slashing opened things up and the team thrived on quality play.

"It just gives us space," Thomas said of the new starting five, shortly after he put in 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."

According to Celtics. com, three nights after scoring seven points during the first quarter of Game 2, the new starting five had tripled that number in less than six minutes of action.

That was all the Celtics needed to find their stride for the night. They wound up shooting 46.3 per cent from the field in the game, while making 11 three-pointers.

Over the first two games of the series, they had shot worse than that percentage during six of the eight quarters while making a total of only 16 three-pointers.

Thomas credited Jerebko as the key to Boston's offensive turnaround.

"He was the difference-maker," the point guard said. "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."

Jerebko, the 2.08m-tall Swede, also provided endless energy that changed the tenor of the game.

Atlanta never led by more than one in the chippy affair, and the score was tied at 96 apiece when the Celtics took over, thanks to two old-fashioned three-point plays by Turner.

The Hawks, who were led by Jeff Teague with 23 points, failed to score a field goal in the final 3:51.

Everything nicely fell into place for Boston and they head into today's Game 4 at TD Garden with a chance to even this series at 2-2.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Clever switch pays off'. Print Edition | Subscribe