1. For the first time in over a month, the Boston Celtics were whole again. Well, mostly. Rookie Romeo Langford was out, but his absence was more than offset by the return of Gordon Hayward. Multiple Celtics commented that just having Hayward on the floor was a difference maker, as they got their first Eastern Conference Finals win.
2. Before we get to Hayward’s return, let’s start with some adjustments Brad Stevens made right out of the gate. Boston had been starting games with Kemba Walker guarding Goran Dragic. Right from the jump, Marcus Smart picked up Dragic. Walker was able to “hide” on Jae Crowder. The differences were noticeable, as Miami never really got their offense going with their starting group in the game.
Dragic finished the game as a -29, with just 11 points on 2-of-10 shooting and five turnovers. As for Walker on Crowder, that went fine as well. Crowder isn’t a threat to take advantage of his size over Walker. He was also 2-of-10 from the floor, all three-pointers.
It’s become fashionable to scream at Brad Stevens about making adjustments and this was a pretty big one for Game 3. Post-game, Stevens indicated that this is how Boston is likely to guard Miami moving forward, as well. In addition, the Celtics looked far more comfortable with attacking the Heat zone defense throughout the game. Enough so, that Boston chased Miami out of the zone down the stretch.
3. Gordon Hayward checked in with 5:06 to play in the first quarter and had an immediate impact. First, he had this pretty pocket pass to Daniel Theis for a dunk:
Then Hayward got to the free throw line pull-up jumper, which has become his signature shot with the Celtics:
Hayward asked out of the game a couple of minutes later, as he was noticeably winded. He said that first stint was tough, but necessary to get his legs under him.
4. Brad Stevens again went to Enes Kanter in the first half, after Daniel Theis picked up early foul trouble. Again, Kanter delivered solid minutes. Kanter had four point and four rebounds in just under six minutes. This straight post-up is the kind of play the big man can deliver against Kelly Olynyk:
5. It was pretty rare that Kemba Walker had to guard Goran Dragic, as covered above. But when he did, Walker did a nice job. Here, he uses his quickness to stay in front, then contests a tough fallaway:
6. Over and over, Brad Stevens and the Celtics veteran players have talked about how special Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are at such a young age. They had a two-play stretch in the game where they showed that off in a major way. First, Brown stuffs Goran Dragic in the lane, then Tatum is off to the races for the transition dunk:
On the next possession, off a steal, Tatum draws Tyler Herro in transition and kicks to Brown for the corner three:
7. At the 2:39 mark of the first half, Miami had cut Boston’s lead to 51-48. Brad Stevens subbed in Marcus Smart for Daniel Theis, and went with the “Best Five” lineup of Smart, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward to close the half. Boston closed the half on a 12-2 run with the small lineup behind some great defense.
First, Brown picked Jimmy Butler off a DHO and found Tatum for the dunk:
Then, Tatum got the rebound and found Brown on the runout:
And then it was Brown with another steal and outrunning Miami for the layup:
Smart added a floater and Walker hit a three, and Boston had a comfortable halftime lead.
8. The Heat opened the second half in their zone defense. Late in Game 2, Marcus Smart became the Celtics primary distributor against the zone. Bsoton went back to that in Game 3. Here Smart dimes up Jaylen Brown off a pretty cut for the dunk:
Later in the quarter, Boston gets the Miami defenders moving. Before they can fully reset, Smart drives right into the teeth of the zone for a layup:
9. The above clip was actual the last basket in a sequence of hoops where the Celtics went right at Bam Adebayo. It started with Jaylen Brown attacking the middle of the zone and finding Grant Williams (who had just come in the game) for a corner three:
Then Williams took a couple of dribbles and scored a short hook over Adebayo. No clip exists, which is a shame because Williams made a nice play and overall played really well for Boston in the second half.
Jayson Tatum took a turn and went right at Adebayo for a floating hook off the glass:
And then Brown scored on a finger-roll over the Miami center:
A couple of plays later, Brown drew free throws on a drive and then Smart hit the aforementioned layup. 5 shots attacking Miami’s best defender for 13 total points.
10. Alas, big leads and Boston are like a celebrity couple. Fun while they last, but short-lived. Miami chipped away after the Celtics got up by 19 and cut the lead to just nine points. Unlike in Games 1 and 2 however, Boston answered. Kemba Walker did what he does best and drilled a pull-up to right the ship:
11. Gordon Hayward also made a positive impact in the second half. Late in the third quarter he snagged a steal and made this gorgeous two-hand outlet pass to Jayson Tatum for the fastbreak and-1:
On the first play or the fourth quarter, Hayward showed his patience. He pump-faked Tyler Herro and then drilled the triple:
Then, with Miami threatening again, Hayward made this nice drive-and-kick to Kemba Walker for a big three:
12. Jayson Tatum played a great all-around game with 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Marcus Smart made a bunch of big plays and scored 20 points. Kemba Walker scored 21 points. Gordon Hayward came back and had a huge impact. But Jaylen Brown was the Celtics best player in Game 3. He was aggressive from the start of the game. Brown also made it clear he’s had enough of Jae Crowder at a few points during the game. In he fourth quarter, he showed it again, with this steal and dunk:
13. While it got a little messy for Boston closing the game (again!) it was mostly because Miami made a bunch of shots. The Celtics had a good plan to make plays. One of their goals was to attack Duncan Robinson, especially late. On this play, Smart powers through Robinson on the post-up for the and-1:
Then, Kemba Walker got Robinson on a switch and blew by him for a layup:
To close the game, Smart had Boston’s last 10 points. He hit this floater, after driving by Robinson:
Smart then went 8-of-8 at the line to finish off a Celtics victory.
Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals will be Wednesday, September 23 at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN.