CHICAGO • The pre-game speech came from an unexpected source, but the motivational message that reverberated throughout the Boston Celtics' locker room could not have come at a more pivotal time.
Via phone, former Boston star Kevin Garnett told the Celtics to "just let go and have fun" as a means to avoid a third straight National Basketball Association play-off loss to the Chicago Bulls on Friday.
The message came across loud and clear.
Al Horford scored 18 points and Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder each had 16 to pace the Celtics to a 104-87 victory over the Bulls in Game Three of their Eastern Conference play-off series. But the Celtics still trail 1-2, with Game Four today back at the United Centre.
"Our only goal for this game was (to) just get the win no matter what, for us to have a chance to make it a series," Crowder said. "You go down 0-3 and it's really, really tough for you to fight back, but we just want to take it one game at a time and get this game and give ourselves a chance."
Four Boston starters reached double figures. Avery Bradley scored 15 points and Terry Rozier finished with 11 off the bench to round out the balanced scoring attack.
The Celtics jumped on the Bulls early and led by as many as 20 points in the second quarter.
But, after the Bulls got to within a point early in the third quarter, Boston broke the game open behind back-to-back Thomas three-point field goals to push the lead back to double figures. They hit the accelerator and never looked back.
"It's a game of runs," Horford said. "For us, in the first two games, we didn't handle it well when they went on a run. Tonight, we were more composed and handled it much better."
As the Celtics made improvements, the Bulls struggled without the injured Rajon Rondo. He is out indefinitely with a fractured right thumb and will be in a cast for another week before the fracture is re-evaluated.
His absence was noticeable at the start as Chicago - who got 18 points from Dwyane Wade and 14 from Jimmy Butler - struggled to play with the pace they had in the first two games with Rondo at the point.
Wade, however, said the Bulls simply were not good enough defensively and could not blame the loss on Rondo's injury.