Chris Forsberg

Four trends the Celtics need to bottle up entering Game 4 in Miami

There were plenty of positives to take from Boston's Game 3 rout.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Maybe the best part of Boston’s Game 3 win in Miami on Saturday night was the way coach Joe Mazzulla balked at the notion of adjustments. Mazzulla suggested that word gets thrown around too much this time of year and sometimes improvement just boils down to playing with more purpose. 

The Celtics cranked up their intensity and focus on both ends of the court, really made the Heat feel them after Miami got way too comfortable in Game 2, and the result was a lopsided win that wrestled back home-court advantage.

Here’s four more things from Game 3 that we’d like to see the Celtics bottle up moving forward this postseason, starting Monday night in Game 4 in Miami (with coverage on NBC Sports Boston):

1. Holiday sets the tone

Masked ever-so slightly by Kristaps Porzingis' Game 2 clunker, which the big man would admit might have been his worst game in a Boston uniform, fellow offseason acquisition Jrue Holiday turned in a dud that night as well. Holiday missed eight of his 12 shots, was a step slow on perimeter contests, and finished with as many turnovers (two) as assists. 

Both players bounced back in Saturday’s Game 3, but Holiday was particularly excellent.

Holiday didn’t even take a shot for the first 26 minutes of Saturday’s game. He put all his energy into defending and playmaking, and helped the Celtics take control of the game. Holiday's first-half box score: five assists, one steal, one block, zero shot and, +26 in plus/minus over 18 minutes, 32 seconds of floor time.

Miami players were 3-of-10 shooting when defended by Holiday, per NBA tracking. After Tyler Herro dominated play in Game 2, Holiday logged a team-high five minutes of matchup time against him and limited the Heat star to 3 points on 1-of-3 shooting with zero assists and two turnovers.

No player has sacrificed more counting stats this season than Holiday. But fresh off signing a four-year, $135 million extension, Holiday continues to put his energy into impacting the game beyond scoring.

The Celtics have a net rating of +23.5 in the 105 minutes that Holiday is on the court this postseason, second best on the team behind Sam Hauser (+33.3 in 49 minutes). Boston plummets to a net rating of minus-21.3 in the 39 minutes that Holiday has been on the bench through three games. 

Speaking of Holiday’s impact…

2. Team USA boys + bench lineup

The Celtics love to keep Holiday on the court during Jayson Tatum’s minutes and have found a whole bunch of success when pairing that Team USA tandem with pretty much any combination of bench pieces.

A lineup of Tatum, Holiday, Al Horford,  Payton Pritchard, and Hauser has a +60.3 net rating in 31 minutes together this postseason. In 11:11 of court time in Game 3, that lineup left Miami wishing for an answer. That Tatum/Holiday-led combo was a team-best +15 in plus/minus over that span, doubling up the Heat while putting up 30 points on 9-of-18 shooting, including six 3-pointers.

Over three postseason games, this five-man combo is +35 in 30:34 of floor time while shooting 50 percent from the floor (26 of 42 overall) and 43.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc (14 of 32). What’s more, the Holiday-Pritchard tandem are able to really get into Miami’s fleet of non-ball-handlers and make them uncomfortable. When Herro wasn’t getting tormented by Holiday in Game 3, he was 0-for-7 shooting when Horford and Pritchard were the primary defenders.

That the Team USA boys + bench lineup is thriving is nothing new. Boston had four five-man lineups that played 100+ minutes during the regular season and that group was a team-best +16.8 in 105 minutes together.

What’s more, an offshoot with Luke Kornet in place of Horford was a staggering +33.7 in 96 minutes together, and of the 116 lineups in the NBA with at least 96 minutes played this regular season, that Kornet-infused group had the second-best net rating behind only one Philly pairing.

3. Sticking up for each other

Fresh off Jaylen Brown stomping after Caleb Martin after Jayson Tatum got floored in Game 1, Pritchard got into a tiny war or words with Herro after Miami’s guard zipped the ball at Hauser in the third quarter of Game 3.

Herro overreacted to getting tripped up by Hauser and threw the ball at him. Pritchard barked back at Herro and made sure he stood up for his teammate.

Pritchard has routinely infused energy during his court time this season, which might have been why it was so jarring to see him struggle to impact Game 2 when the Celtics couldn’t get much of anything going. But Pritchard was back to his positive ways on Saturday, chipping in seven points on 3-of-5 shooting. He was aggressive attacking the basket off the dribble and was back battling for offensive rebounds despite his size.

Eddie House gives his reaction to Tyler Herro's technical foul after throwing the basketball at Sam Hauser, saying he likes the Celtics' intensity.

4. Tatum's passing

Jayson Tatum is averaging a team-best 6.3 assists per game through Boston’s first three playoff games. His 59.3 passes per game are 16 more than the next closest player on Boston’s roster (Derrick White, 43.3). Tatum is averaging a team-best 10.3 potential assists per game and has created 51 assist points (17 per game), a top 10 mark in these playoffs.

Midway through the second quarter of Game 3, Tatum produced a highlight-worthy dime, threading a left-handed zip pass to a cutting Hauser that caught Herro napping and generated an easy layup.

The Celtics put the ball in Tatum’s hands more every postseason, and especially as his playing time spikes, it’s imperative that he confidently quarterback the offense. It’s no surprise that the Celtics have cruised in assist-heavy games from Tatum, and struggled when he only generated three helpers in Game 2.

Most notable about Game 3: Tatum finished with zero turnovers despite a team-high 74 total touches for the game.

Contact Us