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Saturday, 23 April 2016 02:47

Isaiah Thomas drops career-high 42 points as Boston Celtics beat Atlanta Hawks 111-103 in Game 3

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Isaiah Thomas capitalized on the floor stretching from new starter Jonas Jerebko as the Celtics blew out the Hawks early, survived their third quarter run and put them away for the 11-103 win.

BOSTON - Brad Stevens finally unleashed the Swedish Larry Bird Friday and was rewarded with sweet Jonas glory.

Jerebko scored 11 points, tied a game-high with 12 rebounds and dished out 4 assists to help lead the Celtics to a vital 111-103 Game 3 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

With Jerebko and Turner in the starting lineup, the Celtics offense was rejuvenated. Turner scored 16 points with seven assists while running the offense for most of the night. They constantly posted him up on a smaller guard and whipped the ball to an open shooter as the Hawks collapsed.

Isaiah Thomas scored a career-high 42 points while being the center of attention to some rough play and a pair of flagrant fouls. There were four flagrant foul reviews in Game 3, with one being overturned.

The Celtics had a massive run in the first quarter and led 37-20 at the quarter break. But the Hawks ramped up their defense in the second before stomping out the Celtics' 17-point third quarter lead.

But Isaiah Thomas had an answer for the Hawks, as he continued to get to the line whenever the Celtics needed to stop the Hawks' momentum. It culminated with Thomas sniping a dagger from 30-feet out in an unsuspecting Jeff Teague's grill.

Kyle Korver was quiet with foul trouble for most of the game, but began raining threes in the fourth before getting his fifth foul. Marcus Smart nearly sacrificed his life in an attempt to flop Korver out of the game.

Moving Sullinger to the bench gave the Celtics the answer they had been searching for to stop Al Horford and Paul Millsap. The Hawks stars combined for just 16 points, only a point more than Amir Johnson. Johnson has continued to fight Horford tooth and nail on every possesion, matching him stride for stride all series. But Game 3 was the first time that Horford seemed out of his comfort zone, with Johnson swarming in to make the play at the last second and Horford missing his rare decent looks.

Jerebko's presence on the top of the key on offense allowed for true defense-stretching for the first time in the series. Turner's playmaking, especially out of the post, was crucial to getting a healthier Isaiah Thomas going.

The mood was set with Jonas Jerebko's tip slam on the Celtics' first possession, which had the crowd rumbling early and started a furious Celtics run. But it was Jerebko's successful switching on defense throughout the game was what allowed the Celtics to maintain versatility and find an edge that had been missing in the first two games.

"That’s the way we’ve been playing all year when I’ve been in there," Jerebko said. "[Stevens has] been throwing me at the five or the four or the three and we’ve been switching around."

They made crucial stops in transition when the Hawks had favorable opportunities to steal the game back late in the fourth quarter. First, Jonas made a crucial block on a wild-driving Kent Bazemore with the Celtics up four and under four minutes to go. Then Smart rejected Horford on the break, seemingly proving to Atlanta that everyone on the Celtics can stop anyone on the Hawks.

"When Marcus Smart is out there, the defensive energy he brings is kind of contagious," Kent Bazemore said. "The energy from them was much different, and they ramped it up. They definitely took their game to another level and flied around.

"The block he had in transition on Al, [Horford] Marcus Smart, was huge. Those are plays that win games."

It was one of many physical plays that made the game both entertaining and consequential. There were four flagrant reviews with three flagrant one calls. Isaiah Thomas committed the most blatant one of all when he pimp slapped Dennis Schroder in broad daylight, but it was somehow missed by the refs. A suspension may be in the cards for Thomas, but Evan Turner said the physicality is all part of the game.

"Eventually if you call one [flagrant], you have to call another," Turner said. "It wasn't too crazy. I don't think any of them were malicious except -- who hit Isaiah? The guys with the patch? That looked pretty crazy."

As crazy as the Schroder hammer down was, Isaiah's unnecessary slap may cost the team dearly. Slapping a guy in the face is much less egregious of an act than hammering him during a play, but the context of the slap sets off more concern than an excessive basketball play. Regardless of the consequence, Thomas will have to reassess how he carries himself before he becomes the Didier Drogba of the Boston Celtics.

Thomas isn't concerned about getting suspended, regardless of whether he is posturing or has a second voice in his head that is slap-happy.

"I’m not [worried] because I didn’t mean to hit his head," Thomas said. "He got mad and he was talking, but it’s playoff basketball. That’s what it’s about. I’m not gonna back down from anybody and he knows that."

The Celtics walk away from Game 3 leaving the Hawks unable to collapse the defense for 48 minutes. While the Jerebko adjustment worked, the Hawks are well-prepared to respond. Unless Thomas is able to drop 40 for the rest of the series, or even be available for the rest of this series, the Celtics will need another great adjustment to move on to Cleveland.

Jared Weiss

Jared Weiss is the Celtics Locker Room Reporter and Host of The Garden Report: Celtics Post Game Show on Celtics Blog and CLNS Radio. J Weiss hosts The Block Party on Thursday nights at 8 PM and enjoys long walks on the beach while watching Rajon Rondo game footage. You can reach J Weiss at JWeiss@clnsradio.com and @CLNS_JaredWeiss.