Celtics Regain Confidence, With an Assist From Kevin Garnett

“It made us more versatile,” the Celtics’ Al Horford said.

So many things that seemed to affect Friday’s game happened before it even began. Sure, there was Garnett’s colorful message, which the Celtics cited as a factor in their improved play. More significant was the Bulls’ 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 Friday’s 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, Rondo’s 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.

“I can’t even pick up a ball right now,” he said. “I can’t even use a fork or use my thumb. I’ll take a couple of days and see how it feels.”

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 Rondo’s absence in Game 3, and the Celtics knew it.

“They’re a totally different team,” Crowder said.

Boston had 34 assists on 41 field goals — a reflection, in part, of Coach Brad Stevens’s 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 Bulls’ defenders like rubber bands. And without Johnson clogging up the lane, Horford — the Celtics’ lone post player for long stretches — had more room to roll to the basket for layups and dunks. He finished with 18 points.

“It starts with Isaiah,” Bradley said. “He’s such a tough guard. Once he gets into the defense and kicks it out, and we’re making the next pass and the next pass and the next pass — everyone’s touching the ball. That’s fun basketball. Everyone’s playing with confidence. Everyone understands that they can take whatever shots come their way.”

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.

“He’s still…

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