1. Back in the dark days of 2021, the Boston Celtics made blowing big leads an unwanted art form. Those Celtics lost all sorts of games in all sorts of ways.
These Celtics, the 2022 version, put games away. After closing out Game 3 to take a 3-0 series lead over the Brooklyn Nets, Boston is on the verge of closing out the series too.
The players have all talked about learning from the early-season struggles in clutch moments. After Game 3, Ime Udoka spoke about how far his team has come.
“It took some time for the guys to learn the playbook. And it took us, the coaching staff, some time to learn the players too,” Udoka said. “Now, we know who we are and what we want to do late in games.”
Knowing who you are as a team is certainly important. The Celtics have a really firm grasp of who they are at the most important part of the season.
2. Part of that identity for Boston is getting whole again and that happened with the return of Rob Williams. The most important part of Williams’ return is that he said he felt great after the game with no pain and no setbacks.
Outside of his timing and rhythm being a tad off, Williams looked good. He brings another dimension to the Celtics defense, either as a help defender or in straight man-to-man coverage:
Jayson Tatum could have drove this ball or taken the floater with the small defender on his back, but Tatum wanted to welcome Williams back with the Rob Lob:
3. The Nets tried to throw a wrinkle at the Celtics early on with some zone defense in the first quarter. In the past, zones gave Boston some trouble, but they solved this one pretty quickly.
Brooklyn was playing a hybrid 1-2-2/3-2 look. That leaves gaps on the wing for shooters. Marcus Smart simply finds Jayson Tatum in that gap:
This is good offense against the zone. Derrick White is patient and finds Al Horford at the nail. Kevin Durant has to step up to Horford. Because Jaylen Brown is spaced out on the wing, Nic Claxton doesn’t want to leave him. That leaves Grant Williams open for the easy layup:
4. Payton Pritchard had a big second quarter and it came when Boston’s offense had hit a bit of a bumpy patch. Pritchard scored all 10 of his points in the second quarter, in a five-minute stretch where he scored 10-of-12 points for the Celtics.
Normally, it’s the jumper for Pritchard, but this was a tough floater:
Pritchard’s jumper was pretty good also:
5. It wasn’t a dynamic scoring game by Marcus Smart, even if he did make a few some big buckets late. But Smart did his thing running the show. This was the first basket of the game for the Celtics, as Smart found Daniel Theis on a long roll to the rim:
Boston is getting a lot of mileage out of these plays where Brown and Tatum screen for each other off-ball. The Nets defense gets caught one or the other pops free. Here, Brooklyn is worried about Tatum, so Brown slips the screen and Smart dimes him on the backdoor cut:
6. As they did in Games 1 and 2, the Celtics really locked on to the Nets stars. Boston continued to be physical with Kevin Durant on every cut he makes. In this one, Jayson Tatum set a new career-high with six steals. Many of them coming by simply working harder for the position and ball than Durant. Here’s a good example, plus Marcus Smart rewards Tatum for the good defense too:
Kyrie Irving shook loose in Game 1, but the last two games he’s had a minimal impact. Part of that is the Boston defenders are staying connected and jumping him on a regular basis. This is outstanding defense by Derrick White. First, he closes hard, but then White moves his feet to stay in front of Irving to force the travel:
7. The official box score logged 25 fastbreak points for the Celtics in this one. Unofficially, the transition scoring count was closer to 40. For example, this isn’t a fastbreak hoop, but it’s a great transition basket as Jaylen Brown attacks before the defense is set:
Here’s Jayson Tatum creating another steal and bucket. Having your 6-foot-10 big man running the break like Al Horford does helps too:
This was the best one of all. Derrick White might want to see about a tryout down the road in Foxboro after dropping this bomb to Tatum:
8. Despite being in control for most of the game, the Celtics still had to put the Nets away. To do so, Fourth Quarter Jaylen Brown is becoming a thing.
Brown had a stretch where he created 12 straight points for Boston. Here’s a snippet starting with a step-back triple:
On the next trip, Blake Griffin is up a little higher. He doesn’t want to get beat with the step-back again. Brown blows by for the strong finish at the rim:
Next time down the floor, Kevin Durant helps on the drive, but you can’t help off Jayson Tatum in the corner. Brown makes him pay with the assist:
The Nets mercifully got Griffin off Brown, but Patty Mills is too little to bother this shot:
Here’s the thing: All of those plays were needed from Brown, because the Nets just kept coming. And Brown delivered big time.
9. After Brown’s heroic run, Jayson Tatum put a capper on things. After Grant Williams (who played another great game himself) stole the inbounds pass, he found Tatum on the break for the and-1:
This is a nice backdoor cut by Tatum before he wraps the pass around the defense to find Al Horford for the open corner three:
Finally, one last steal and it’s time to drive home safely:
10. The Celtics are up 3-0. It’s been said that the difference between very good teams and great teams is closing out opponents immediately. It’s not a disaster if it’s not a sweep. Things could easily end in Game 5 back in Boston.
But why let it get to that?
You probably don’t have to worry about that with these Celtics. They are locked in and supremely focused on the next game. Not the next series, not the conference finals, not the NBA Finals. Just the next game.
That mindset will serve them well as they go for the sweep.
Game 4 is on Monday, April 25 at 7:00 PM ET.