It is not an exaggeration to say the Celtics season was completely saved Friday night in their Game 3 win over the Brooklyn Nets. Everything was looking very grim coming off a Game 2 shellacking. The Celtics could have taken the blows and gone down in a sweep to a more talented Nets team. Instead, the team rallied together in front of the TD Garden faithful and played one of their best games of the season. No matter how the rest of the series goes, everyone needed to see a resilient win like this.
The headline of the game will of course be Jayson Tatum’s 50-point game. However, there were other dominant performances to put the Celtics over the top. One of those performances was the night Tristan Thompson had down low. It was his best performance in Celtics green.
Thompson was an absolute wrecking ball in the paint scoring 19 points and 13 rebounds. He was everywhere using his physicality to make room to grab boards and score around the rim. Of those 13 rebounds, 9 (!) were on the offensive end.
Even with the superstars on their roster, the Nets biggest weakness is their center position. They have Blake Griffin who occasionally plays a small ball 5 role or Nic Claxton who has not completely developed into the position yet. This is where teams have been able to take advantage. Thompson did just that as he overpowered any in his way Friday night. He just looked like the biggest and strongest guy on the floor.
This clip shows exactly that. It was an initial miss by Tatum where Claxton was caught too far under the basket as he was defending through. Thompson misses the tip but is still able to control everything after the fact because of the smaller defenders around him — two easy offensive rebounds and a made basket on that one possession. It gave the Celtics the ability to extend and maintain their lead throughout the night.
When Robert Williams left because of an ankle sprain after only 6 minutes on the court, Tristan Thompson took that call to play a longer stint. Boston does not have center depth on their roster. so it was crucial Thompson played well or they would be severely undersized. One of the most impressive things about Thompson is the way he positions himself around the basket to grab rebounds that also occasionally lead to put back baskets. His motor is running at 110%, so he continuously crashes the boards no matter where he is when the shot goes up. He sets a screen at the top of the key and as soon as that shot is released he sprints down to create havoc around the rim. That is so important because it can catch opposing players sleeping and ball watching.
Crashing the boards while being over seven feet tall is the bare minimum to do as a big man. You can just create chaos down low getting your arms involved in the action. It creates difficulty for the opposing team. Against a smaller team like the Nets, it can create excellent offensive rebounding opportunities such as these. Both of these two clips are a perfect example of that high motor that is so important for Thompson. He crashes the boards and gets to easy dunks while no one marks him heading down the lane. When you are one of the biggest on the floor, it can create some big time dunks that erupt a hometown fanbase.
The Celtics will have another big time playoff game Sunday night with a full TD Garden. The odds are still stacked against them in this series, but they will always have this Game 3 win. Jayson Tatum will always be on an All-Star list of Celtics’ players who have scored 50 points in a playoff game. Even as the Boston mindset for a series is win or go home, this Game 3 win will mean more for a season of absolute turmoil. The supporting cast made this happen, and Tristan Thompson’s performance will standout the most.