Jayson Tatum on Gordon Hayward: "We're so much better when he's out there, so much more dynamic, so much more versatile ... To have him back is everything."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 20, 2020
If the Boston Celtics were going to go down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference finals, it wasn't going to be because they let the Miami Heat dictate the terms of engagement. Three and a half minutes into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday, they'd scored at the rim three times. By the end of the third quarter, they had 50 points in the paint to the Heat's 22.
Unlike Game 2, the Celtics' offense did not stagnate when Miami went to its 2-3 zone. They made quick decisions, used the Heat's aggressiveness against them and attacked the paint with purpose. With a 117-106 win, Boston is down 2-1 in the series.
Jaylen Brown was a maniac on defense and played perhaps his best all-around game of the playoffs. He finished with 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting, plus seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in 42 minutes. Jayson Tatum had 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Kemba Walker added 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting.
Miami shot just 33-for-85, but managed to hang around until the final minute. Center Bam Adebayo had 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting, plus 16 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Off the bench, Tyler Herro scored 22 points and dished four assists, but did almost all of his damage in the first half.
Boston led by 13 points at halftime and as many as 19 in the third. The Heat went on an 11-1 run late in the third quarter, briefly threatening to pull off the kind of comeback that sunk the Celtics in each of of the first two games. Boston responded with a 7-0 run, and the margin was back to 19 early in the fourth quarter.
Miami was able to make it interesting late in the fourth, cutting the deficit to five points, but it's hard to earn a come-from-behind victory when you shoot 4-for-26 from 3-point range in the second half.
Here are three takeaways:
1. If they keep doing THAT…
Every NBA team is desperate for big wings who can defend multiple spots. Regardless of position, every team is trying to stack its roster with players who can dribble, pass and shoot. In the broadest possible terms, Boston is blessed to have two former No. 3 picks who fit these descriptions.
But the Celtics have championship potential because Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can play games like this when they're most needed. If a single sequence served as a microcosm of the evening, it was when Brown started a fast break with a block on Goran Dragic and Tatum finished it with a powerful dunk.
The best part of that play? Brown's ridiculously quick recovery after Dragic's ball fake. He was everywhere in Game 3, forcing turnovers and putting pressure on Miami's defense without being reckless with the ball.
Tatum and Brown understood that they needed to make Miami react to them. What's most encouraging, though, is that they didn't force a ton of bad shots. Neither is a natural when it comes to creating for others at this stage of their respective careers, but they're coming along. And when they're getting stops and scoring in transition, Boston is extremely difficult to beat.
"We wanted to really attack," Stevens said. "If we're putting it on the floor, we want to get to the rim and make a play for ourselves or others. And then if we're not pressuring the ball defensively, if we're waiting to be attacked, we stink. So, might as well pressure and see if we can be good."
Stevens said that he wasn't bothered by the fact the Celtics lost Thursday's game. To him, it was more about how they lost, and who the Celtics were going to show themselves to be afterward. If this is who they are -- and this is how Tatum and Brown are going to perform -- then Miami is going to have to play at a much higher level than it did in Game 3.
2. Hay, hay
With Gordon Hayward back in the lineup for the first time since spraining his right ankle in Game 1 of the first round, Boston looked like itself again. Hayward came off the bench, and his presence made every bench lineup used meaningfully better than it would've been otherwise.
After a month off, Hayward did not steal the show offensively. He just fit into what the Celtics were doing, running pick-and-rolls, moving without the ball and serving as a connector. Boston went to its centerless lineup -- Walker, Hayward, Brown, Tatum and Marcus Smart -- a couple of times, and the sheer amount of playmaking on the court was apparent.
"To have him back is everything," Tatum said, describing the team as more dynamic, more versatile and "so much better" with Hayward on the court.
Stevens didn't expect Hayward to play 31 minutes, but some foul trouble made it necessary and the extended break coming up made it tenable. He scored just six points on 2-for-7 shooting but had four assists, five rebounds, three steals and a block.
"He is a stabilizing force for our team," Sevens said. "He just can make the right play and make a play for somebody else at the right time."
One example: With about three minutes left in the game, Boston had a 10-point lead and it seemed like the Heat were about to get a stop. The Celtics had used most of the shot clock trying to create an advantage but failed to do so until Hayward set up Walker for a drive-and-kick corner 3.
3. Super Herro?
It's kind of amazing that the Heat were only down 63-50 at halftime considering how little they had going on offensively. Boston started the game with Smart guarding Dragic, an adjustment clearly aimed at disrupting the Dragic-Adebayo pick-and-roll.
Even though Adebayo was fantastic, this was successful -- Dragic couldn't find any sort of rhythm. Jimmy Butler wasn't being particularly assertive, either, and, if not for Herro's heroics, the first half would have been a full-on disaster for Miami.
Herro scored 18 points in the first half on 6-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-6 from deep. In one stretch that spanned two minutes and 17 seconds, he made four consecutive jumpers, three of them from behind the arc.
Boston should be happy about how it limited Herro in the second half, though, and the Heat need to figure out what's going on with its sluggish starts. Miami may have the lead in the series, but its offensive issues are increasingly troubling. The Celtics played a smarter, more aggressive game on Saturday, and the Heat have a few days to figure out how to respond in a similar way.