After losing to the Miami Heat in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, there were only two ways in which the Boston Celtics could respond in Game 3, according to Jayson Tatum.
“We could have come in here and laid down,” the All-Star wing suggested. Or, “we could have played like we were fighting for our lives.”
His Celtics chose the latter, as they came out in full-on attack mode, controlling the tempo from start to finish en route to a 117-106 win.
It was Marcus Smart who set the tone for Boston on its very first offensive possession, as he plowed through Miami’s defense for an and-one reverse layup to give his team a 3-0 lead out of the gate.
The Celtics continued to attack, building their lead up to as many as 20 points in the third quarter; though they knew, based on Miami’s double-digit comebacks in Games 1 and 2, that no lead was safe against this resilient Heat team. So, the C's did what they could not during those first two games: they kept their foot on the pedal until the final buzzer sounded.
“Our whole team was aggressive,” C's coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “Our whole team played with the right mentality. And most importantly, responded to their good runs and tough shots really well and then pushed leads out.”
The Heat managed to get close a couple of times over the course of the matchup, but Boston never let them take the lead. In fact, it marked the first time in 70 games that Miami was unable to establish a single lead over an opponent, according to ESPN.
“We just made the plays that were presented to us,” said Kemba Walker, who scored 21 points and was one of four Celtics players to tally at least 20 in the scoring column. “It felt good, you know? Whenever we had opportunities to drive and kick, we did and guys were just being aggressive, really. Just making the right plays and that’s what it takes to win.”
The most aggressive player of the bunch was Jaylen Brown, who logged nine of his 11 field goals inside the paint, where Boston held a massive 60-36 scoring advantage.
Brown emphasized after the game how it is, “Very, very important to control the paint. I just had to get back to what I do best. That’s what I came into the league doing. Different matchups, different situations call for me to be able to have to be versatile and play different roles for this team. But what I do best is get to the basket. So I wanted to just come out and be the best version of myself.”
As a team, the Celtics were also the best version of themselves, as they finally had a full, healthy roster for the first time in nearly five weeks, thanks to the return of Gordon Hayward.
Hayward, who hadn’t played since Game 1 of the first round due to a right ankle sprain, produced six points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals during 31 minutes off the bench. Though, his presence alone gave the Celtics much more than just numbers on a stat sheet.
“His decision-making, his ability to make plays for others and for himself, it just opens up the floor so much more,” said Tatum, who logged 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. “They’ve got to respect him, so just having a bunch of guys out there [that a defense] really can’t help off of because everybody can shoot, knock down shots, make plays, I think it makes it tough.”
What also makes it tough is when an opposing team comes out fighting with its back against the wall. That’s exactly what Boston did Saturday night, and Tatum believes “we should play like that all the time.”
If the Celtics can continue to play like that in Game 4 Wednesday night, then they’ll have a good chance of tying the series up with momentum on their side. They just have to keep attacking, keep playing like their backs are against the walls, and keep fighting for their lives.
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