CHICAGO — The big risk paid off and Gerald Green is ready to get crunk again in the starting lineup in Game 4.
Brad Stevens said at practice Saturday that he will roll with the same lineup that got his Celtics back into the series, starting Gerald Green as a swing next to Al Horford and Jae Crowder. Hot Chocolate served as a balancing force from a strategic perspective, but a truck full of Red Bull from an emotional standpoint.
“I kind of like being geeked up,” Green said. “I think that’s the type of personality I have anyway. I’m always animated, I’m always kind of crunk. So I have to be that energy. I don’t want to be less geeked than I was.”
After a pair of games in which the Celtics tried to trade body blows on the glass, Stevens elected to switch up the strategy that saw Stevens use every big on his active roster to a guard and wing-focused rotation with Green and Terry Rozier getting more run.
The Celtics’ small lineups had a +25 net rating in 33 minutes in Game 3 per NBA Stats, compared to a -8 net rating in 23 minutes in Game 2. They were -8 in the 15 minutes they used two bigs, which includes Jonas Jerebko at the four. The starting lineup played 15 minutes, going +13 and shooting 7-for-12 from deep.
“IT and Al right now are the quarterbacks of the team,” Green said. “So I think for us, me, Avery and Jae, we’re just there to set screens, spot up, be aggressive when the time’s needed. When the ball’s kicked out, it’s our turn to make a play. But when Al and Isaiah are orchestrating the offense, we just try to see if we can find some cracks in the defense or just be aggressive when the opportunity’s there.”
Things got almost too easy at times, as Thomas-Horford actions captivated a Bulls defense that will have to move forward without their quarterback Rajon Rondo.
Green’s role at the four was more streamlined than his usual experience, serving as a weak-side stretching presence on most sets.
“Coach has more plays than the Patriots,” Green said. “So him cutting some of that down definitely helped me out, playing the 4 a little bit.
“So I think everybody knows the plays on the team. So we just always listen to him. He’s our orchestrator.”
The surprise conductor in Game 3 was Avery Bradley, who finished second on the team with seven assists as a de facto point guard in the second half.
Even when the second unit rolled with the Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier, Jonas Jerebko, and Kelly Olynyk lineup, they continued to move the ball crisply enough to twist the Bulls into knots. This lineup looked vulnerable to a trademark late third quarter run from Jimmy Butler, but they continued to execute and hit back whenever Jimmy Buckets scored.
They continued to play spread small ball, even when Jerebko was in at the four. Bradley played choreographer much of the second half, to the point that Stevens said he, “Couldn’t take him out of the game.”
Bradley had spent the first half locking down Jimmy Butler and the second half running the offense. Suffice it to say, Gerald Green was blown away.
“I could throw Avery on anybody. I don’t care who it is. If Avery’s guarding him I’m confident that Avery’s going to do his best. And I feel like Avery’s going to do the best that anybody could do guarding anybody. So I don’t care who it is out there.
“That’s how confident I am about Avery playing defense. But like I said, those are really good offensive players. So I expect them to make some shots. I expect them to make some plays. But I think when Avery’s on anybody, I feel really confident about that situation.”
The Bulls are expected to roll with Jimmy Butler as the primary ball handler in Game 4 after Fred Hoiberg said lineup changes are coming. So Bradley will have his hands full even more than ever. Green will continue to start, but Smart says their lineup defending Butler on ball is makes things more straightforward.
“It’s one less person that we can help off of, because if Jimmy’s in the corner or coming off screens, we can’t help as much. Now with everybody else, with him with the ball, we can help off of who we need to help off of and try to contain him.”
With Rondo out, the impetus is on Butler to propel the Bulls. He’ll need to take the fight to the Celtics deep in the paint, now that he won’t be running off screens for catch and shoot actions nearly as much.
This Rondo-less Bulls team will go as far as Butler will carry them. The Celtics need to protect their house if they want to restore home court advantage.
“Just guarding our yard,” Marcus Smart said. “That was the big deal. Just guarding our yard.”