The Celtics have several strong suits, but executing their offense efficiently in the third quarter hasn’t been one of them.
Having been an issue for quite some time, it was refreshing to see the Cs dominate the Miami Heat in every which way throughout the third. After matching a season high 77 points in the first half, Boston wasn’t letting off the gas anytime soon. After all, it was a high intensity rival matchup.
At 35-10, the Celtics score the most points in the first (31.3) and second (31.6) quarter of any team in the NBA this season. The pattern of the Celtics disappearing offensively throughout the third quarter has remained constant. They rank 20th in third quarter offensive rating (116).
This time however, Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday set the tone early, knocking down back-to-back three-point shots. Combining for 23 points on 9-11 field goal shooting and 100 percent from deep, the Cs simply couldn’t be tamed.
At 6’4, Holiday took advantage of the Heat’s smaller lineup, bullying guard Tyler Herro in the paint, and making the right plays off turnovers in transition. Speaking of Holiday, he’s truly a unique one-of a kind point guard. How many teams can say they have a guard who can post-up most guys in the paint?
JT is COOKIN' the Heat pic.twitter.com/z8dGoKHxvu— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 26, 2024
With ice in their veins, this team shot 13-19 (68.4 percent) from the field, and 5-9 (55.6) percent from downtown. With critics chirping about Tatum’s slump as of late, he hit all three of his long-range shots, including two contested threes over Herro.
The most impressive play came seven minutes into the third, where Tatum drilled a three-point shot over Jimmy Butler against a 5-on-4 defense. He did so with zero hesitation.
“I think we all try to have the right intentions every time down the floor,” Tatum said. “We found the mismatch or the advantage that we were trying to attack. Finding those two-on-ones where you make the defender make a decision. A lot of our shots were open, so we were playing with the right mindset.”
Despite losing Kristaps Porzingis to an ankle injury mid-way through the third, they outscored Miami 36-26. Luke Kornet once again provided a scoring spree off the bench, finishing with 8 points and two rebounds in a total of three minutes. Overall, he added 12 points and five rebounds in less than 20 minutes on the court.
It's clear Joe Mazzulla is starting to trust his bench players more and more. With Tatum on the bench, and Porzingis out of the game, Brown continued to lead the second unit. Sure, the three-ball was spectacular, but from here on out, the Celtics were finding unique ways to score.
No play has received better bench reactions tonight than Luke Kornet alley-oop dunks. pic.twitter.com/bcf210TKQR— Noa Dalzell (@NoaDalzellNBA) January 26, 2024
Let’s take a deeper dive into Kornet. The only big man in the game for the C’s, Kornet was excellent in reading defensive coverages and setting strong screens. Not once, not twice, but three times Jaylen Brown took the ball up himself beside Kornet. With Miami playing such a small lineup, the transition alley-oops from Brown to Kornet were beautifully executed.
“Luke, 12 points, that came from recognizing the coverage versus him, and him playing plays in the seam,” said Mazzulla. “I think Luke’s been playing really well. I think our bench is tremendous. I think most importantly, it shows how we can impact each other positively on both ends of the floor. That’s the challenge for us— can we continue to build trust for each other.”
A few plays later, up 109-87, Miami was caught sleeping in the paint. Holiday drawing the double team from Bryant and Robinson baseline left a wide-open Kornet in the paint.
And again, up 111-90, Brown took the ball up, and ran the pick and roll with Kornet, where he was fouled by Robinson and Herro in the low post.
I’m not saying the Celtics, or this third quarter was perfect. The Heat shot 50 percent from three and attacked on the offensive end. In a situation where the Cs have struggled all season long, they are learning how to adapt and score against various defensive schemes.
The Celtics lead the league in 42.7 three-point attempts per game, however, learning to adapt while up 21 points is on another level. Overall, the Celtics had a well balance of attack on offense in the third quarter.
Post game, Tatum dove into the team's challenges and what they’ve done to overcome them. “It’s reading the game,” Tatum said. “Being aware of what matchups they have on the floor. Are they in zone? Are they in man? are they switching? Just being aware of that. Not just going down and playing too free.”