We have a series in the Eastern Conference. Following a pair of collapses in the first two games of their conference final tilt against the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics were able to pick up a crucial 117-106 win in Game 3 of the series. Instead of falling into a potentially insurmountable hole, the Celtics are now right back in it thanks to a wire-to-wire win that, despite getting a little hairy at the end, was well-deserved.
Jaylen Brown had himself a game
One of the big things to watch heading into Game 3 was what Jaylen Brown would look like after getting into a verbal confrontation with Marcus Smart in the locker room that require teammates stepping in following the Boston’s Game 2 meltdown. Answer, as it turns out, is pretty dang good.
With the caveat that we are only three games into things, Brown had what was easily his best game of the series against Miami. Brown scored a team-high 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals. In things you can’t quantify quite as well, Brown was locked in on defense, serving as a pest against the Heat’s perimeter players.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 20, 2020
He got into a rhythm early, did not relent, and was one of the best players on the court for either team. The thing with Brown is that he possesses gobs of talent, and when he’s engaged, he’s a legitimate difference-maker on both ends of the floor for Boston.
His athleticism is something that few teams are ever able to answer for, and when he is attacking, he’s really, really dangerous. That was the case on Saturday, as evidenced by his 8-for-13 mark on field goal attempts in the paint. His ability to do that, specifically, makes life easier on guys like Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, who don’t run into an extra defender when they’re slicing their way into the lane and Brown’s guy has to stay home, lest he has a clear path to the rim that will end in two points.
By no means was Brown perfect — a flagrant foul with a little more minute left in the fourth on Duncan Robinson, in particular, let the Heat get within five points amid a torrid comeback attempt — but he had a really, really good game, something he needed after getting challenged by his team’s vocal leader last time out. Coming into Saturday, Boston was 15-1 when Brown scored at least 25 points in a game this season. Thanks to this performance, another one goes in the win column.
The return of Gordon Hayward was big
Gordon Hayward didn’t do anything particularly spectacular in his first game back from a sprained ankle. Hayward had not appeared in a game since Boston’s first postseason tilt against Philadelphia, and while it was evident there was a little bit of rust on him, he still put forth a very solid outing, all things considered.
In terms of raw numbers, Hayward didn’t turn heads, but he had a nice game on both ends of the floor. His six points on 2-for-7 shooting was about right considering he hadn’t played in a month, but he managed to pull down five rebounds, dish out four assists, record three steals, and block a shot in 31 minutes of action.
— NBA (@NBA) September 20, 2020
Hayward did not win the game for Boston, not by a long shot, but he brought some much-needed solidity to their wing rotation, particularly off the bench. Hayward was Boston’s only bench player to play double-digit minutes — Brad Wanamaker and Grant Williams both played nine, Enes Kanter played six — so despite the fact that he hasn’t played in quite a while, a lot was put on his shoulders. In a bit of good news for Brad Stevens, his former standout player at Butler University delivered.
The Celtics do not need Gordon Hayward to play like an All-Star, but being able to come off the bench and give them a level of stability that they just have not had during this series is a gigantic boost. Even if the Celtics barely outscore Miami while he is on the floor, that’s better than getting absolutely annihilated when one of Brown, Smart, or Tatum need to sit. And who knows? Playoff games can sometimes swing on getting a big performance from someone off the bench. Hayward seems tailor-made to have at last one night like that as this series goes on.
Just an off night for Miami, but…
Let me be the 500,000,000th person to write some version of this sentence this postseason: My god, Bam Adebayo’s good. He scored 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting and ripped down 16 rebounds while playing his usual brand of impossibly flexible defense. Tyler Herro had a game, too, scoring 22 points on 8-for-18 shooting off the bench, although 18 of them came in the first half.
— NBA (@NBA) September 20, 2020
The issue was everyone else. Miami’s bench gave them next to nothing — Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. combined for six points, and that was it for every bench player not named “Tyler.” Andre Iguodala was limited with back spasms. The Heat have a good bench, but this just wasn’t their night.
Jimmy Butler had a decent enough outing – 17 points, eight rebounds – but his shooting wasn’t particularly great, hitting only sixth of 13 attempts from the field. He also sat down the stretch for reasons that are unclear. The duo of Jae Crowder and Goran Dragic, both of whom have been ultra-reliable this postseason, combined for 21 points on 4-for-10 shooting from the field and 3-for-15 shooting from three, neither of which will get it done. While Dragic was on the floor, 28 minutes in all, Miami was outscored by 29 points.
It just did not seem like it was the Heat’s night, which you can take one of two ways. A pessimist will say they missed a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead, and instead, we have a series. An optimist will say that Miami was down double digits for lengthy stretches of the game, and yet they kept fighting and got it within two possessions with less than a minute to play. Even though Boston has a lead for much of this series, Erik Spoelstra’s squad just does not quit, and despite falling short on Saturday, they have a 2-1 series lead because of it.
Now, both teams will get to take a few days and recharge. Game 4 doesn’t tip off until Wednesday evening — Monday Night Football is a powerful thing! — with the festivities beginning at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN.