A narrative writes itself after every playoff game. Defense was the story in Game 1. Game 2 was the Kyrie Game. After the Celtics 104-96 win against the Pacers, the story for Game 3 was Boston’s balanced attack and putting Indiana at the brink of elimination with the combination of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford.
The U.S. Navy has the KISS principle, an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid. In the NBA, particularly in the playoffs when you have to bring out your best stuff, keeping it simple can sometimes be the best strategy. For the Celtics, their bread-and-butter is the Kyrie-Horford pick-and-roll.
At the end of Game 3 with the Celtics nursing a one-point lead with less than six minutes to go, Irving and Horford went to work. The veteran pair would combine for 12 of Boston’s final 16 points, “They really played it well. Listen, the Pacers have given us fits with the pick-and-roll defense because they switched a ton in the first two games, they blitzed right out of the gate first play of the game against Baynes, Myles Turner jumped Kyrie. They mixed in blitzes the rest of the game,” head coach Brad Stevens said.
During the regular season, Irving was in the 85.7th percentile as the ball handler in a PnR; Horford ranked in the 63rd percentile. With Irving’s ability to get his shoulders passed his defenders and finish at the rim paired with Horford’s range as a catch-and-shoot big man, they’re a deadly duo in the clutch.
“Those two are really good players. The best thing to do in that moment is to keep it simple, figure out what the defense is doing and react to it. We’ve seen a lot over the last 85 games about how they react to Al and Kyrie and then guarding Kyrie. Some of the shots he hit-he had the driving layup which was a good move, but the little floating shot was just a joke. He’s ridiculous.”
Irving followed up his 37-point performance in Game 2 with a more mortal 19 points and 10 assists in Game 3 and credited the win to more of a team approach. When asked about the symbiotic relationship he has with Horford on the floor, Irving said, “I think that you just find a balance in getting in the paint. Al’s going to be in the right place. It’s my job to deliver the ball on time and make sure I get it right in that bread basket, right in his shot pocket where’s he able to just go up and shoot and make some big time plays. Obviously, that’s something we can go to pretty frequently, but I think that when the game is going the way it was going tonight, it’s better to get everyone else involved and you saw that tonight.”
Jaylen Brown was hot early, hitting 8-of-his-9 shots for 23 points. Jayson Tatum chipped in with an efficient 18. The bench of Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, and Gordon Hayward combined for 26.
But at the end of the game, the Celtics closed with the star-studded five that started the season. Along with Irving and Horford, it was Tatum, Brown, and Hayward. When asked about what it’s like playing with the five now in the playoffs vs. at the start of the season, Irving said, “it just shows we’ve come a long way in terms of our maturity as a group, just our mindset with whoever is on the floor, making sure that we’re all giving each other confidence, we’re all in the right spots, we’re all doing the little things in order to assure a win.”
“When you have that type of camaraderie going into the huddles, everyone’s talking and everyone’s feeling great, then going out there and executing on the defensive and offensive end, it makes it a lot easier. When you’ve got that group--and that group started off pretty horribly this season--we just got time to figure it out and now that the stakes are at its highest, the pressure, whatever you want to call it, I feel like we’re settling in to who we really want to be and that’s just an overall great team.”