Boston Celtics

Celtics-Cavs takeaways: Tatum, C's bounce back in Game 3 win

Jayson Tatum responded to the critics with a stellar performance in Boston's Game 3 victory.

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The Boston Celtics needed a strong response after their abysmal Game 2 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They rose to the occasion with a decisive win at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals series.

Saturday's game was tightly contested out of the gate with 11 lead changes in the first quarter. Boston took a nine-point lead into the half and started the third quarter on a 14-0 run, leading by as many as 23 points. Cleveland responded with a run of its own and cut the deficit back to single digits early in the fourth. From there, the Celtics buckled down defensively to earn a 106-93 victory in Game 3.

Boston got big games out of its superstars, Jayson Tatum (33 points) and Jaylen Brown (28 points). Jrue Holiday had a breakout performance offensively with 18 points, including 15 in the first half.

Cavs star Donovan Mitchell had another monster night in a losing effort, dropping 33 points while shooting 7-of-12 from 3-point range.

Game 4 in Cleveland is set for Monday at 7 p.m. ET. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live on NBC Sports Boston.

Before we look ahead to that matchup, here are three takeaways from Game 3.

Jayson Tatum quiets the critics

Tatum has been scrutinized lately for his inefficient shooting throughout these playoffs. While the five-time All-Star has helped his team in other ways, the criticism has been warranted. He shot just 7-for-19 from the floor in Game 1 and 7-of-17 in Boston's Game 2 loss.

Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix is among those who never lost faith in Tatum. Appearing on Celtics Pregame Live, he called a bounce-back performance for the Celtics superstar.

"This game, it's all going to change," Mannix said on NBC Sports Boston. "Tom [Giles], [Brian] Scalabrine, Eddie [House], get your popcorn ready -- this is the game that it changes for Jayson Tatum. Game 6 of the 2022 Conference Finals where Tatum went off against the Bucks, Game 7 last year against Philadelphia -- we're going to be talking about Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jayson Tatum because he is going to go off."

Mannix predicted Tatum would "score well over 30, if not 40 points" in Game 3. He wasn't far off.

Tatum set the tone for his big night with back-to-back 3-point makes on his first two shot attempts. He notched 12 points in the first quarter and finished the half with a team-high 18 points (6-12 FG), a game-high seven rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal.

According to Celtics stats guru Dick Lipe, Tatum became the first player in the 2024 playoffs to have at least 12 points, four rebounds, two assists, and a steal in the opening frame.

Tatum kept his foot on the gas, finishing with 33 points on 11-of-25 shooting to go with his 13 boards and six assists in 42 minutes.

There still was room for improvement -- he was 2-of-8 from deep and took some questionable shots in the fourth quarter -- but this was not the Tatum performance to nitpick. For the most part, he put on a show in a game that he needed to make a statement in.

Jrue Holiday steps up offensively

Holiday couldn't have picked a much better time to have one of his best games as a Celtic.

The All-Defensive guard hadn't made much of an offensive impact thus far in the 2024 playoffs. That quickly changed in Game 3.

Holiday started hot with eight first-quarter points and kept it rolling in the second, finishing the half with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting. By the midway point of the second quarter, he already had more points (15) than he scored in a game since March 12.

He finished with 18 points (7-10 FG), his highest total since Feb. 9 when he scored 20 against the Washington Wizards.

While having his best offensive performance in months, Holiday made an impact in every other facet of the game. He added eight rebounds and five assists while playing his usual stellar defense.

Tatum and Brown's numbers will jump off the stat sheet, but Holiday set the tone early and was the unsung hero in Boston's Game 3 win.

Much-improved defensive effort

After the Celtics' Game 2 loss, Jaylen Brown repeatedly called his team's defensive effort "unacceptable." His message must have resonated, because the effort was undoubtedly there in Game 3.

Boston limited Cleveland to 42.9 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent (12-36) from 3-point range. Donovan Mitchell accounted for more than half of those 3s (7-12) as the rest of the Cavs shot a combined 5-for-24 from deep.

The Celtics also bounced back after losing the rebounding battle in Game 2. This time, they outrebounded Cleveland 44-35.

Derrick White put the exclamation point on the Celtics' defensive performance with a clutch fourth-quarter block on Mitchell. Fittingly, it led to a strong finish from Brown on the other end.

If the Celtics stay this locked in defensively in Game 4, there's no reason they shouldn't return to TD Garden with a chance to close out the series in front of their home crowd.

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