Breathing life into their playoff chances, the Boston Celtics blew a 19-point third-quarter lead but held on for a wild 111-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
Presenting coach Brad Stevens with his first career NBA playoff win, the Celtics got a career-high 42 points from Isaiah Thomas and cut Atlanta’s lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.
Game 4 is set for Sunday night at TD Garden.
The Celtics, who led by 20 points in the first half, saw a 19-point lead early in the third quarter evaporate.
Atlanta never led by more than one in the chippy affair, and the score was tied at 96 when the Celtics took over thanks to two old-fashioned three-point plays by Evan Turner.
The Hawks failed to score a field goal in the final 3:51.
Boston led by four when Thomas, who heard chants of “M-V-P” all night from the rowdy crowd, hit a bomb to make it 108-101 with 1:53 left.
When Thomas stole the ball and was fouled with 42.9 seconds left, he turned to the crowd and flexed his muscles before hitting his 41st and 42nd points. He left to a standing ovation with 11 seconds left.
There were three flagrant-one and two technical fouls in the game.
Stevens, who lost his first six playoff games as a professional coach, changed his starting lineup, inserting Turner and Jonas Jerebko. Turner had 17 points and seven assists and Jerebko totaled 12 rebounds, 11 points and four assists.
Amir Johnson delivered 15 points and seven assists and Marcus Smart had 11 points and five assists for the Celtics, playing without injured Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk.
Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 23 points, Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore both had 20 and Kyle Korver added 17. Paul Millsap and Al Horford were both held to eight points, but Horford had 13 rebounds and Millsap 10.
The Celtics, reversing the outcome of the first two games of the series and their regular-season finale, jumped out quickly, breaking out of a 2-2 tie with a 17-4 run and a 13-point lead that grew to 20 in the first half.
The lead was 12 at the half and Boston came out of the gate with seven straight points to start the second half, taking a 19-point lead 1:16 into the third quarter.
The Hawks caught fire and it took Jerebko floating one in off a loose ball at the buzzer to keep Boston ahead by one entering the fourth quarter. (The Celtics lost a point from earlier in the quarter upon review.)
There were two verbal confrontations in the first half, one resulting in double technical fouls called against Thomas and Schroder. Then, both Boston’s Jared Sullinger and Millsap picked up flagrant-one fouls 20 seconds apart in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Schroder slapped Thomas in the head as Thomas pulled up for a shot. Thomas removed his headband and smiled — and Schroder received a flagrant-one.