Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 51 points, 21 rebounds and 13 assists to help the Boston Celtics to a 117-106 victory over the Miami Heat on Saturday night as the Celtics finally got on the board in this Eastern Conference Finals series, now trailing Miami 2-1.
A wire-to-wire victory that saw Boston lead by as many as 20 points, the Celtics still didn’t make it easy on themselves. They saw their lead shrink to as few as five points with less than a minute to play before finally pulling away and putting the game to rest.
Here are a few takeaways from a much-needed win for Boston in Game 3.
Celtics leaders get the job done
After Boston’s Game 2 loss, many reporters overheard yelling and cursing from Marcus Smart in the Celtics’ locker room, suggesting the possibility that the team’s unity may be fracturing and an implosion could be on the horizon with them facing essentially a must-win Game 3.
In the aftermath of this incident, it was reported that Celtics coach Brad Stevens then brought in his team’s four leaders – Smart, Tatum, Brown and Kemba Walker – into a private meeting to hash out any bad blood that may have been brewing. By the looks of what we saw from the quartet in Game 3, any negative emotions are water under the bridge now.
All four Celtics leaders were absolutely instrumental in Boston’s win Saturday night and their final box score figures show you how:
• Brown: 26 points, seven rebounds, five assists, 11-of-17 from the floor, 3-for-5 from deep.
• Tatum: 25 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, 9-of-20 from the field, game-high plus-23 while on the floor.
• Walker: 21 points, six rebounds, 8-of-16 from the field, 4-for-8 from three-point range.
• Smart: 20 points, six assists, 5-of-10 from the field, 10-for-10 from the free-throw line and scored 13 of his 20 in the fourth quarter, including making nine free throws in the frame.
As the old saying goes, stars win you games in the playoffs, and that’s exactly what Boston’s four most important players did.
Jimmy needs to get more buckets
In Game 3, however, while Adebayo was once again brilliant, scoring a game-high 27 points and collecting 16 rebounds, Dragic faltered greatly, scoring 11 on dismal 2-of-10 shooting and recording a brutal minus-29 rating for the game.
Butler, meanwhile, was solid again with a 17-point, eight-rebound night on 6-for-13 shooting.
But is “solid” good enough when it comes to Butler?
Unquestionably the Heat’s all-around best and most important player, Butler had acted as a strong closer for Miami in the first two games of the series, but didn’t get that opportunity in Game 3 and, overall, has yet to put a signature, transcendent “Jimmy Buckets” mark on the series.
Through the three games, Butler is averaging 17 points on 44.7 per cent shooting. Again, solid numbers for any player — except if you’re a superstar like Butler.
The Heat have a lot of talent on their roster and we’ve seen it throughout this series with the likes of Adebayo, Dragic, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro all having their moments. But they’re still just the supporting cast to the lead actor that Butler is supposed to be.
So far, we’re waiting for Butler to step into that spotlight and stay there in this series.
Gordon Hayward checked into Saturday’s game off the bench with 5:06 left to play in the first quarter, returning to action for the first time since Aug. 17 when he sprained his right ankle and was forced to temporarily leave the bubble.
Overall, Hayward looked a little rusty out there, scoring six points on 2-of-7 shooting, but the good news for the Celtics is that coach Brad Stevens liked enough of what he saw from Hayward that he was confident to give him 31 minutes of playing time – a good indication that his ankle is just fine – including crunch-time minutes in the fourth quarter.
More than anything, Hayward impressed with his play-making, as he made smart decisions with the ball in his hands and dropped four dimes, including this beauty:
After the game Hayward said he was “gassed,” but his conditioning should return with time and the Celtics should expect he’ll be with them for however long their run continues.
Despite the impending birth of his fourth child, he says he’ll stay in the bubble, as the extra time with his family while injured helped satiate that particular need.