âIt made us more versatile,â the Celticsâ Al Horford said.
So many things that seemed to affect Fridayâs game happened before it even began. Sure, there was Garnettâs colorful message, which the Celtics cited as a factor in their improved play. More significant was the Bullsâ surprise announcement that Rondo, after playing so well in the first two games of the series, had fractured his right thumb in Game 2 and would be out indefinitely.
Wearing a cast and a short-sleeve blazer, Rondo watched Fridayâs proceedings from the bench. Without him, the Bulls lacked any semblance of organization. Jimmy Butler labored for open looks, clanging his way to a 7-of-21 shooting night. Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, Rondoâs overmatched fill-ins, combined for 8 points, 3 assists and 7 turnovers.
Rondo said he would try to help his younger teammates without being overbearing. As for his potential return, he said the doctors had told him that it would be a couple of weeks.
âI canât even pick up a ball right now,â he said. âI canât even use a fork or use my thumb. Iâll take a couple of days and see how it feels.â
This, of course, is problematic for the Bulls, just when they seemed to be assembling the jagged pieces of their season. They barely qualified for the playoffs, and then, as the eighth seed, took the first two games from the host Celtics. Chicago was buzzing. But the Bulls could not compensate for Rondoâs absence in Game 3, and the Celtics knew it.
âTheyâre a totally different team,â Crowder said.
Boston had 34 assists on 41 field goals â a reflection, in part, of Coach Brad Stevensâs decision to switch up his starting lineup. He summoned Gerald Green, a swingman and a solid outside shooter, from the deep recesses of his bench to replace Amir Johnson, who typically starts at center.
With four players stationed on the perimeter, the Celtics stretched the Bullsâ defenders like rubber bands. And without Johnson clogging up the lane, Horford â the Celticsâ lone post player for long stretches â had more room to roll to the basket for layups and dunks. He finished with 18 points.
âIt starts with Isaiah,â Bradley said. âHeâs such a tough guard. Once he gets into the defense and kicks it out, and weâre making the next pass and the next pass and the next pass â everyoneâs touching the ball. Thatâs fun basketball. Everyoneâs playing with confidence. Everyone understands that they can take whatever shots come their way.â
Thomas is playing through grief. He has not spoken publicly since the death of his younger sister in a car accident last week. After playing in the first two games of the series, he returned home to the Seattle area to spend time with his family. He rejoined his teammates in Chicago ahead of Game 3.