CHICAGO – When Isaiah Thomas goes to the bench, it’s a given that a run is about to happen.
But the Game 3 was different.
There was the usual surge on the floor in Thomas’ absence.
- Highlights: Celtics 104, Bulls 87
- Rajon Rondo says he was stretching leg, not trying to trip Jae Crowder
- Rondo's absence felt by both Celtics and Bulls in Game 3
- Garnett's presence felt in Celtics locker room
Only this time it was the Celtics’ supporting cast pulling away while Thomas chilled on the bench, which was one of the many subplots in Boston’s 104-87 Game 3 win that has totally changed the narrative of this best-of-seven series.
Even though the Celtics still trail 2-1, there is no doubt the series’ momentum is in their favor.
They are coming off a strong victory and the one player who essentially set the table for the Bulls to play well – former Celtic Rajon Rondo – is out indefinitely with a right thumb fracture that’s likely to keep him sidelined for the rest of this series.
With or without Rondo, the Celtics still had to find ways to impact the game when Thomas wasn’t on the floor, a factor that has contributed to many of their losses in the regular season in addition to being a factor in Games 1 and 2.
“We need to be more like that,” Marcus Smart told CSNNE.com. “Isaiah’s a great player, does a lot of great things for us. But he can’t do it by himself. We need others to step up, and I thought we did a good job with that [in Game 3].”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments about the play of Thomas’ supporting cast that either kept the lead, or increased it, in every stint Thomas had on the bench.
When Thomas left the game in the first quarter with 5:02 remaining, Boston led, 16-10.
His supporting cast absolutely smoked the Bulls in the final five minutes with a blistering 17-5 run led by Jae Crowder, who scored eight of his 10 first-quarter points in that surge.
And unlike many games this season, this was not a one-time only stretch of strong play by the supporting cast, either.
“The guys did it in the first quarter and later in the game,” said Stevens. “With him off the floor, we had a lot of guys contribute.”
And for them to win Game 4 Sunday night in Boston and potentially this series, that’s how it has to be for Boston.
“The Bulls are really putting a lot of attention on him [Thomas],” Stevens said. “Whenever he comes off the screen, two guys are on him.”
Thomas had a strong floor game in Game 3, displaying the ability to give the game what it needs.
Instead of eye-popping point totals, Thomas found that sweet spot between being a scoring threat (16 points) while getting his teammates the ball where they can be most effective (nine assists, only two turnovers)
But even more impressive was how his teammates carried the day when Thomas went to the bench for rest.
Factoring all that Thomas has endured this past week with the death of his 22-year-old sister Chyna J. Thomas a week ago today, it was only fitting that the team he has carried for so many games this season returned the favor by carrying the team to its first win of this postseason.
“It’s big,” said Kelly Olynyk. “We definitely lean on him a lot. He’s carried a lot of weight. For us to lift him up, especially the circumstances going on, it’s big. I’m glad we were able to do it. We got one more to get on Sunday.”