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Robb: Jonas Jerebko Helped Spark Career Night For Isaiah Thomas

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – After scoring a career-high 42 points against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, Isaiah Thomas was asked about the impact newly named starter Jonas Jerbeko had on his performance.

What did the Swede give Thomas exactly during his first start in nearly three years?

"Space. Space and opportunity," Thomas explained. "He's a hell of a shooter. The Hawks and everybody in the NBA gotta respect his shooting ability and he gives me space to work. I'm glad he got his opportunity tonight. And he is the difference maker. He spaced the floor everybody. He's always in the right spots. And it's tough to guard when you've got a shooter like that that can stretch the floor and knock down shots and also attack the paint and he did a hell of a job tonight."

Jerebko provided that spark from the opening tip with a acrobatic follow slam to start off the Celtics scoring and maintained it over his season-high 37 minutes of action. He finished his night with 11 points, 12 rebounds and four assists and also helped corral an explosive Hawks defense with his ability to switch onto smaller players for much of the evening.

"He plays really, really, hard," Brad Stevens said after the game. "He's got versatility with regard to defensively. It's really hard to switch onto (Jeff) Teague and (Dennis) Schroder, but all of our bigs have to do that some as they get going downhill on you. And then his scoring is just a plus. You know, if he scores, he scores; if not, he's still spacing for us. And so they have to honor that. And he had a big driving basket with his left hand in the fourth quarter, he had the big basket at the end of the third quarter, but then his defense was really great all night, I thought."

With Jerebko and Evan Turner inserted into the starting five in place of Jared Sullinger and Marcus Smart, the Celtics flew out to a 37-point first quarter and double-digit lead. Those 37 points were more than the team's first half point total in Game 1 (34) and Game 2 (28). Despite the limited court time that the Thomas/Turner/Crowder/Jerebko/Johnson unit played all year, the goal of spacing the floor for Thomas was not a hard thing for the unit to produce.

"That's the way we've been playing all year when I've been in there," Jerebko said of the smaller unit. "And [Brad's] been throwing me at the five or the four or the three and we've been switching around. Like Isaiah said, just making the other team adjust to what we do. It kinda worked pretty good today, but I think we can do a lot better. Teague got a couple easy buckets on me and so did Schroder. So that's something I gotta look at the video and take away in the next game."

The Hawks, for their part, were not surprised at the effectiveness of the smaller unit that featured Jerebko, even if they were a bit vulnerable defensively.

"They fly around. They are a solid team defensively," Hawks guard Kent Bazemore said. "They can switch. When Marcus Smart is out there, the defensive energy he brings is kind of contagious. And tonight, like I 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, Marcus Smart, was huge. Those are plays that win games. Those are the winning plays and you've got to give them credit. They wanted this one a little bit more than we did. A couple loose balls, they were diving on the floor. We were trying to run and scoop them. So those small plays like that really show what team wants it more."

With Evan Turner (17 points, 7 assists) chipping in with a solid night as well, you can expect the new Jerebko/Turner lineup to stay in place for Game 4, another must-needed win for the Celtics who still trail the Hawks 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

"Everybody played a big part in tonight's win," Thomas said. "But it's only one game. We gotta look to Game 4 to take care of home court."

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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