Jayson Tatum's Dominance, Jrue Holiday's Heroics, An Epic Comeback, The Celtics Game 3 Win Was One For The Ages

Nathaniel S. Butler. Getty Images.

I'm not sure about anyone else, but my heart is still racing. How could it not be? I've spent hours trying to make sense of what we witnessed last night, and frankly, it's hard to believe this is our reality at the moment. Not that the Celts are a win away from returning to the NBA Finals, we've had plenty of runs in this current era where we've seen the Celts get to 3 wins in the ECF. That's not new.

But how they've done it? I dunno, things just feel different.

In Game 1, that Jaylen shot doesn't fall. Somehow, that game ends in a brutal ECF overtime loss. You know it, I know it, we all know it. We've lived it.

In Game 3, there is no 18 point comeback. There are no late game heroics. With the opponent shooting like that, this would have always been a blowout ECF loss. How do I know that? I lived through Game 3 of the 2022 ECF in MIA. Go ahead and look up how that game went.

They say to win an NBA title you need things to break your way. You need health, you need execution, and most importantly, you need luck. 

Well, there's only one explanation here. We're either currently experiencing our own version of The Luck Of The Irish (2001)

or we're finally experiencing what this playoff "luck" looks like for a team that goes on to win the title. After years and years and years and years and years of being on the other side of that luck, this is a rather new feeling. 

Because make no mistake, the Celts had no business winning this game. This is now twice in three games the Pacers have thrown their best punch, and both times the Celts still found a way to win. Part of that deserves credit for being resilient, but it's OK to admit there's a little bit of luck involved. They may have done their part to create their own luck, but there's still an element of magic at play so far in this series. Look how the Pacers shot the ball last night!


On the road, against a team that literally couldn't miss no matter what you tried defensively, down 18 points, that is almost always a playoff loss. 

You know what it reminded me of? Game 4 of the 2008 Finals. Down 24 points, the Celtics pulled off the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history on the road. While this certainly wasn't at that level, it's about as close as we're going to get. Things looked lost in that game, just like they did last night. But just like the 2008 team, the 2024 team found a way. At the end of the day, that's all that matters. 

I don't care how you do it, just find a way. Win ugly, win by blowout, win by an epic comeback, who gives a shit. Just find a way to win. 

The Good

- The national discourse around Jayson Tatum is arguably one of the dumbest things in existence. Honestly, I'll never understand it, because time and time and time and time and time and time and time again we see this man not only show up on the biggest stage, but dominate unlike any player we've ever seen in NBA history.

I know that can sound dramatic, but I don't lie in this blog. I simply tell you what's happening. See for yourself

We have quite literally never seen any player, from any era, do what Jayson Tatum did last night in a playoff game (or regular season too for that matter). Pick any player you want throughout NBA history, they never did it. 

Which brings me back to the Jayson Tatum discourse and how utterly moronic it is. All we hear about is how Tatum "doesn't have that dawg" in him, or that he doesn't have the "it factor" and is "soft" and "never shows up in big playoff moments". Meanwhile, this type discourse comes after dropping 36/12/4 in a playoff win, which only adds to the stupidity of it all.

You see, it's easy to pretend Tatum is these things if you willingly ignore everything he's done in the postseason. I think that's what breaks my brain the most. We have literal years of evidence that this is one of the badest playoff motherfuckers in the league, and yet you'd never know it based on how he's talked about compared to other stars. It's bananaland stuff, really.


This Game 3 performance? Add it to the list. Easily one of Tatum's best all around playoff performances, and the plays he made down the stretch were the stuff of legends. The gigantic 3 with about a minute left, the behind the back pass to Al which is one of the more insane Tatum passes we've ever seen

I'm pretty sure I will never possess the confidence at any point in my life that we saw Tatum have in this moment

to not just throw the behind the back pass, but for it to be PERFECT. Right on time, right in Al's shooting pocket, down 5 points with about 71 seconds left. I'm not sure it gets any bigger than that, and what I love about it is despite Tatum having one of his best offensive games of the playoffs where he was not just dominant, but efficient, he didn't force that shot over 3 Pacers defenders. Instead, he did what he always does.

He made the right play.

When you do shit like that, the Basketball Gods reward you. We see it all the time. Respect the game, play it the right way, move the ball, trust your teammates, and you will be rewarded.

Suddenly, it looks as though Tatum has officially woken up


Giphy Images.

How does 30.1/9.9/6.1/1.7 on 46/32% with 2.4 3PM over his last 7 games (6-1) sound? Pretty good to me! In the ECF we've seen Tatum's efficiency start to come back (47.8%), and while I don't think he's going to shoot 5-10 every night from three like he did last night, if that's a sign that he can live in the mid to high 30s the rest of the way, well I'm not sure how you guard him considering nobody can guard him at this point and he's not even making his 3s. 

On the road, with a chance to go up 3-0 and effectively end a series, this is the moment your franchise player needs to drop his dick on the table and get the job done. That is what Tatum did and has done pretty much his entire Celtics career.

- Al Horford. That's it. That's all that needs to be said

23 points, 8-14 (7-12) from the floor, 3 blocks, nothing fills my heart with joy quite like seeing Al Horford succeed. His play this entire playoff run has been nothing but inspirational, and of all his incredible moments last night, I think this one was my favorite


How many times have you seen the Celts fail to grab a late game defensive rebound in the 4th quarter that ultimately bit them in the ass? I'd say no fewer than 10 billion times.

But Al? No chance he was letting anyone else get that rebound. He went after that ball like he was 25 years old, and it's arguably the biggest rebound of the season to date. His emotion once the Nesmith game tying three was short and he immediately fell to the ground reminded me of another time we saw that happen with Al in the ECF, when the Celts punched their ticket to the Finals back in 2022

Brian Babineau. Getty Images.

He wants this ring so fucking bad, I don't know how that couldn't inspire everyone on the roster. This man is old as shit and is giving EVERYTHING he has. He's making shots, he's showing up defensively, he's playing hard as hell, and now the Celts have the opportunity to give Al his second mini-All Star break of this playoff run. 

Out of all the insane performances we saw in this Game 3 win, nothing makes me more emotional than Al's. What a player.

- I feel confident in saying the Boston Celtics do not have a 3-0 lead in this series without Jrue Holiday. To say he's been great doesn't even do it justice. He hasn't just been great. He's been everything. Better than the best case scenario, better than any of us thought was possible given his playoff history, he looked at MJ's Flu Game and said "hold my beer"


For the first time this series his shot wasn't exactly dropping (4-10, 1-6), and you could tell he was a step slow defensively early, which makes sense when you remember he was probably shitting his pants all day from being sick. 

But when it came time to step up and make a play, Holiday delivered.

As a Celtics fan, it was a weird moment. Not too long ago, we were on the other end of a steal like this by Jrue. How could any of us forget

and I'm going to be honest with you, life is much better being on the right side of a play like this

The AND1 on Siakam, the steal, the clutch FTs to seal it, this entire ECF has shown the exact reason Brad went and traded for Holiday. These are the moments he seems to rise to the occasion and just like he did for MIL, he's delivering for the Celts when they need it most. I'm pretty sure my soul left my body on that steal, and it's the type of play that while routine for Holiday, you never expect to see in that moment. Part of me was sure they were going to blow the whistle for a foul which would have ended my life, but thankfully we made it out alive.

- You know, it feels like a good time to relive the entire 18 point comeback. Why not? It ruled


- It feels a little crazy that we've gone this far and still haven't even mentioned the performance of Jaylen Brown. Another guy who has been sensational all playoffs, just like with Tatum we saw Jaylen fulfill his role as a franchise building block player on the road in a huge playoff win

To me, his dunk on Turner felt like a turning point. Instead of going up soft or maybe going up looking for the foul, Jaylen brought the thunder. It was so chaotic in the moment, that play can somewhat be overlooked considering it came at the 4 minute mark, but that's where things started for me. 

He then followed it up with a huge turnaround jumper at the 2:24 mark with the Celts down 109-101, and I could argue that without those plays, the Celts don't pull off this comeback. The very next possession was the Tatum 3 and then the Tatum pass to Horford, so to see the Jays step up and come through in the biggest clutch moments of the game nearly brings a tear to my eye. This is it, this is what we've been waiting for.

- Speaking of clutch time basketball, all I heard all season was how the Celtics were going to suck in the clutch in the playoffs, that nothing they did in the regular season mattered because playoff basketball was different.

OK. Let's see how the Celts have done so far in clutch time basketball this postseason


Giphy Images.

- His night offensively was utter dogshit, his point of attack defense was rather terrible, but Derrick White's rim protection was a major factor in this win. Sometimes it's about finding a way to make an impact in a game where nothing is going your way, and to me that's what Derrick did. His contest on Siakam's drive in the final minute was as important of a defensive rotation as we saw all night

In fact, his rim protection was legit all night. It's not too often you see a point guard/shooting guard finish a playoff game with 4 blocks, yet that's a typical night for White. Blocking centers, blocking wings, it doesn't matter. His ability to contest without fouling is about as elite as it gets, and these are the small things that add up to big things over the course of 48 minutes. On a night where nothing seemed to be going his way, Derrick found a way. A big three in the 4th, a OREB putback, that play at the rim. Just huge momentum plays when the team needed it most.

- Shoutout Xavier Tillman for his +12 in his 13 minutes. 

- I don't care if the Pacers had Haliburton or not, their offense was BUZZING in the first half. Shooting 65%, they seemed to be getting whatever they wanted, it was a problem.

Then you see the Celts only allowed 42 points (21 and 21 quarters) on 38/14% splits with 6 TOs over the final 24 minutes. As poor as their defense was in the first 24, their defense won them this game in the final 24. You don't come back from 18 points without stops, and it remains true that the backbone of this team's playoff success will always be their defense. 

Water may have found its level with the Pacers shooting, but the Celts defensive intensity also went WAY up. Things really started to change around midway through the 3rd when apparently Joe told everyone to stop being little bitches and feeling sorry for themselves, and the rest was history.


The Bad

- As I just mentioned, everything about the first half defensively can live in this section. The Pacers had 4 separate players notch at least 20 points, and to put it nicely, they were getting absolutely shredded by Andrew Nembhard and TJ McConnell. Of those 4 players (Siakam, Turner, Nembhard, McConnell) all of them were well over 50% from the floor for the game, and for all the "without Haliburton" talk, it seems like people don't realize what the Pacers still did offensively.

I would argue they were tougher to guard last night than any previous game in this series, and you certainly don't get that type of showing from Nembhard/McConnell if Haliburton is in the lineup. They deserve all the credit in the world for playing the best games of their careers, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Getting into the paint at will, sinking midrange after midrange, nobody staying in front of them on straight line drives, it's not unfair to say that those two players had the Celts defense in hell for the majority of their minutes.

- Sam Hauser is in the slump of all slumps right now. There's no other way to say it. His confidence has to be in the gutter right now, and the easiest way to tell is this play right here

This is a shot my brain has been trained to simply assume Hauser makes. I mean, I don't think I've ever seen him miss a WIDE OPEN look like that before, to the point where the shot isn't anywhere fucking close.

I know people are demanding he never play, but with rhythm shooters that's actually the opposite approach you should have. You have to keep taking open looks, trusting that eventually one is going to drop. Once it does, we'll see Hauser snap out of it. But at the moment? It's bad. Very bad. Unplayable at times bad. But you have to stay the course, I truly believe that. This is a lifetime 41% shooter who was shooting in the high 30s this playoffs. 

It's a brutal slump at the moment, but it will pass.

- The missing FT bullshit has to stop. Another playoff game where it was brutal yet didn't bite them in the ass, but make no mistake. It will. Tatum missing 4 FTs almost NEVER happens. Derrick missed one. Jaylen missed one. These games are too important to be screwing around at the FT line like this, especially for a team that shoots a collective 80%.

- I was certain this was going in


So why is it in this section? Watch Derrick. The Celts completely blew this coverage to the point where Jaylen is literally pushing Derrick back into the right direction. A great play from Carlisle that the Celts blew defensively. But as they say, it's a make or miss league.

I did think we were about to get a Kawhi-level bounce and make while the ball was in the air off the rim. Something about that TV angle had my brain convinced it was going to drop in. Thankfully, that "luck" thing showed up again. You factor in the Nesmith vs his old team angle and I'm pretty sure my heart stopped until I was certain the game was over.

The Ugly

- You know the rules. Celts win 5 in a row we skip this section until they lose. Now up to 6 straight, see ya never.

Alright, 3-0. No team in NBA history has ever blown a 3-0 lead, but we all know this thing is not over. We just lived through the Celts forcing a Game 7 after getting down 0-3 last year in the ECF. Anything can happen this time of year if you take your foot off the gas, so I would like the Celts to approach Game 4 as though they are the ones down 0-3. End this shit on the 27th and then you get the 28th-June 6th off, which is about as best case scenario as humanly possible. Do it for Al, do it for KP, do it for us.

11 down, 5 to go.