I said it in the instant reaction blog and I want to start this blog off with the same point.
There is still a LONG way to go in this series before the Celtics regain control. That is not what happened last night. Last night was more about them preventing the end of their season and showing some life. With their backs up against the wall most due to their own actions, they responded. That's the good news. The bad news is they still made us all freak out as we watched a 20 point lead get closer and closer and if Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro hit a late three, who knows what happens. I know there might be some out there that are mad the Celts aren't up the 3-0 they actually should be, but that's not where my mind has gone. I'm only looking ahead. If they need to come back tom 0-2 to win this series then so be it. You can't do that until you win your first one.
Aside from the stressful ending, there was a lot to be pleased with in Game 3. I'd say overall the energy, effort, approach, etc is what we will need to see from this team the rest of the series if they want to advance. It looked much more like the team I remember that's for damn sure.
So while we all wait for the football games to start, let's talk about what we saw.
- For me, a big part of some of the issues this team had in the first few games was it felt like Jaylen never touched the ball. He barely had any FGA in then second half of the Game 1 collapse, nothing really changed in Game 2, and I feel like there were way too many times where we would see Jaylen wide open with his hands up only to never really get then ball.
Enter Game 3
That's why you give the ball to Jaylen. Right away he was aggressive and boy did it make all the difference. Not just because of what it did for him individually, but it helped set the tone and it became contagious. Jaylen led all scorers in the first quarter with 8 points in FGA, which also happened to be the most FGA of anyone. On the defensive end he was in charge of staying with the Heat's two best shooters. He matched up with Robinson/Herro a total of 26 times, held them to 2-8 shooting and just 6 points. Much better at fighting over screens and challenging threes (without fouling!) his hands were active as shit as he led the Celts with 4 deflections, and he was second in contested shots with 8.
I'm almost ready to say this was the best all around game Jaylen has played in some time now and boy did it come at a huge time.
- Now when you talk about one Jay, you usually should talk about the second Jay soon after. So let's talk about Jayson Tatum
Uhhhhhh monster night. It's not just the scoring, Jayson Tatum puts up 25 in his sleep. But I will also say he too was super aggressive in this game, doing a great job of attacking the zone, lowering his shoulder to fight off contact and then was solid at finishing at the rim. It's pretty clear the Heat don't exactly have the size to handle Tatum when they decide to go into that zone and he finds his way into the paint. Jimmy Butler did a decent job, but when the Heat go man that only plays into the Celtics offense. It's a bit of a pickle.
What I'm most pleased with when it comes to Tatum's night was his rebounding and his passing. He admitted in Game 2 that he didn't rebound for shit, and he immediately came back with 14 huge ones. This is very important because if he rebounds like this, it allows Brad to go "small" and play his Best 5 lineup. The 8 assists I'm pretty sure tied a career high, and how rare was his night overall?
Oh just making a little NBA history no big deal. That's fun.
- It had been 5 weeks since we had last seen Gordon Hayward play. He was looking great in the bubble and his return could not have been more needed
Here's the thing about Hayward's night. There's no denying he had an impact, but I think almost all of us are maybe overreacting a little bit about it because we missed him so much. Here's what I do know. He moved great on both ends. There was no hesitation or mental blocks about going full speed on his ankle. Right away you saw the impact he makes defensively, especially the steals part. That was something he did really well before he got hurt. Finding the passing lanes, being in the right spots, being a big body when they go small and handling post players. That part of Hayward being back is just as important as what he brings offensively.
On that end, you saw why fans were excited for him to be back. His jumper wasn't lights out or anything, but again this is a matchup thing. He knows where to be and how to move the ball to help bust that zone. Having him in the midrange area changes everything. Having him be a bigger bodied ball handler to penetrate and make the right reads changes everything. Him not being forced to shave the mustache when he went home changes everything.
Obviously the best news of the night was that Rachel Nichols confirmed that Hayward will not be leaving the bubble for the birth of his child. That huge. There wasn't really anything definitive until that report, and I admit it has me a little excited.
- I think we can all agree that this game started to swing the second Brad went to the Best 5 lineup of: Kemba/Jaylen/Smart/Hayward/Tatum. Just how dominant was that group? It was a lineup combination that played the second most minutes in this game and the results are flat out staggering
7 minutes / 162.5 Ortg / 76.5 Drtg / +86 net rating
It changed the game. Brad went to it for 4 minutes in the fourth quarter and it put up a 150 Ortg. In the second quarter to close, where the game really shifted during those final 3 minutes, they had a 183 Ortg / 28.6 Drtg. That is literally insane.
- Very quietly Kemba Walker has returned to his old form
21 points on 8-16 (4-8) shooting, we're starting to get efficient Kemba back in our lives. He made that HUGE corner three in the fourth when things started to get dicey, and boy is it a relief to have this version of Kemba. The man couldn't buy a bucket for what seemed like weeks, and how he's back to being a reliable, consistent, efficient scorer. I cannot stress how important that is going to be.
I really liked how we saw him be aggressive and get to the rim, even if the officials refused to really give him a call. He only took 2 FTA on the night which is a little crazy given how much he attacked.
- For the Celtics to be successful, it's imperative that everyone knows their role. That doesn't always happen, but when it does this team looks unbeatable. A big part of that is obviously Marcus Smart. To me, this was the most he's looked like his normal role in some time. Part of that is maybe Hayward being back, but I thought Smart was so much more under control offensively, got back to being a passer first (6 assists) and a shooter second. Defensively Brad FINALLY listened to me and put him on Dragic and he completely removed him from the game. Smart matched up on Dragic on 14 possessions and held him scoreless. That's the Smart I know and love
I also think it was important for Smart to play well after all that shit that happened after Game 2. His fourth quarter shot selection was horrific and you could argue it cost them the game. This version of Smart is much more in line with what they need from him to succeed.
- In case you weren't following along, the Celts had 4 players score at least 20 points in this game and Gordon Hayward wasn't even one of them. Is that good? That feels good. How many teams still alive right now have that sort of depth?
- They didn't blow the lead. They made us sweat, but after what we've witnessed in this series I'm chalking that up as a win and there's nothing you can do about it. This is my blog.
- Talk about a world of difference in defending the MIA P&R. Bam didn't really feast as a roll man in this game and to me that's because the Celtics were so much better when it came to the weakside defender rotating in. Sure he scored on it here or there, but it was not the same disaster as Game 2. That tells me that Brad made the adjustment and the players were way more in tune to what they had to do defensively. That's there the energy shows up.
The Heat shot just 38/27% for the game and that my friends is how the defense needs to play the rest of the way.
- Talk about dominating in the paint. Celts won that battle 60-36. Benefits of being aggressive against the zone right there folks.
- It still bothers me how much this team complains when they don't get a call. I know it's easy for me to say but like…..get over it. Kemba was barking after his non calls, Theis was up to his same old antics even on calls that were clearly fouls. He also had that TERRIBLE foul in transition for his 5th that he most definitely did not need to take. That's just being mentally aware of the situation.
Then there's Tatum. Yes, there were multiple plays where Jae Crowder very clearly fouled him and he didn't get it. But he needs to understand the more he bitches and complains the less he's going to get calls. The proof is in the pudding. Tatum has been complaining basically all series and has things changed? Is he getting a better whistle or are they still boning him? Maybe try a different approach.
- Kemba is still a little too turnover prone for my liking. He had another 4 last night which was twice as many as any other Celtic and this is something that needs to be figured out immediately. Can't have a game where you have 2x the TOs as AST.
- Watching Tyler Herro start off so well and light it up from three makes me so goddamn mad that Ainge somehow let it leak he wanted to draft him so Pat Riley swooped in and snagged him the pick before. He'd be so fucking perfect for this team it's not even funny.
- Alright, let's talk about the mini collapse. At this point you can only laugh even though it isn't even remotely funny. You seriously can't hold onto a 20 point lead and just let us enjoy a win with no stress? I mean come on. The reason for it was everything we've hated about this team offensively in this series. The ball didn't move, they fell in love with the iso hero ball three that was not dropping, they turned it over, they committed bonehead plays, there was no offensive direction from Brad, it was a mess.
Another quarter with 6 TOs where nearly half your FGA are threes while you also have 10 personal fouls. That's the formula for disaster in each one of their collapses so far this series. The Celts are very lucky MIA only shot 38/17% or else they probably do blow that 20 point lead. Imagine if that happened? You wouldn't be reading a blog today because I would have jumped off my roof.
- I have no idea what Marcus Smart was doing in the final 45 seconds where he decided to take a layup with 15 left seconds on the shot clock in a 5 point game. That could have been a DISASTER. There's no need for that and just because it worked out doesn't mean it was a good decision. It was an awful decision.
- While he was good about it in Game 2 during the collapse when it came to calling timeouts. The same was not true for Brad in Game 3. It felt like old times during that stretch at the end of the third and those old times are not great.
So here we are. Still down in the series, but now with life. If this team wins Game 4 on Wednesday and ties this thing up 2-2, all the pressure shifts to the Heat. I think we all hoped that a Hayward return would do wonders for this team, and through his first game that's exactly what happened. Now just keep it going.