CHICAGO – The mood was significantly lighter at the end of the Boston Celtics’ practice on Saturday at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago.
At one end of the floor, players were playfully jacking up 3’s. At the other end of the floor, some were working on ball-handling or mid-range jumpers.
And then there was Kelly Olynyk draining shots from half court.
But as jovial as they were on Saturday, players understand there is still a lot of work to do in order for them achieve their primary goal which is to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Boston’s 104-87 Game 3 win over the Bulls cut Chicago’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. A Celtics' win in Game 4 would not only tie the series at two games apiece, but also re-establish home court advantage for the top-seeded Celtics.
“We’re going to have to play with great purpose, be intentional in the way we approach (Game 4),” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We know it’s gonna be really hard. Each game is its own entity.”
Games 1 and 2, both won by Chicago, were about the Bulls’ supporting cast led by Robin Lopez.
And in Game 3, Boston’s small-ball lineup dominated play in leading Boston to its first win in the series.
Despite Boston’s impressive showing in Game 3 which included a playoff franchise-record 17 made 3’s, Stevens – like most coaches – sees plenty of room for improvement heading into Game 4.
“I thought we could have done some things a little better on offense,” Stevens said. “Defensively, they put us in some tough positions, missed some shots. We have to be better in some of our defensive stuff. We’re going to have to play better.”
And that maybe more than anything else, is what makes Boston’s Game 3 win so sweet.
They led most of the game and won by a sizable margin, but clearly did not play their best game.
Chicago has out-rebounded Boston in each of the first three games by an average of 12.3 per game.
And the Celtics endured a miserable second quarter scoring drought, scoring just seven points in the final 11:17 of the quarter.
But the goal in Game 3 was very simple: win by any means necessary.
“Certainly, better to be down 2-1 than 3-0,” Stevens said.
But the Celtics have to maintain the same sense of urgency on Sunday, that they played with in Game 3.
“The vibe for me is the same,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “I knew we’d come here, play hard and get a win. It’s always good to be back on the winning side. I feel we need to have the same mentality when we were down two. Otherwise we’ll be down 3-1 if we don’t have the same mentality.”
Bradley knows all too well that there have been times this season when the Celtics would play well and come away with a marquee win, only to get seemingly fat and happy afterwards and suffer a loss rather than build off the momentum of an impressive win.
The playoffs are a different kind of animal than the regular season.
And the best teams tend to respond to the moment, finding ways to succeed and survive rather than struggle and stumble.
“We used today to prepare for (Game 4) so we can improve on those mistakes we made last game,” Bradley said. “Hopefully we’re able to get a win again if we’re playing with the same intensity as (Game 3).”