The Boston Celtics were an emotional wreck after their Game 2 loss, resulting in tempers flaring, objects flying, meetings among players and the coaching staff, and maybe most significantly, a heightened level of uncertainty as to how they would respond in a must-win Game 3 matchup.
They showed fight among themselves in the locker room, but could they bring it on to the floor?
Boston delivered an emphatic response on Saturday with a 117-106 win over the Miami Heat in the best-of-seven series which the Heat now lead 2-1.
Coming into Game 3, the Celtics had played with the lead for more than 65 percent of the first eight quarters of play.
So to see Boston ahead with a double-digit lead for most of the first half wasn’t all that surprising.
But the Celtics that have folded down the stretch in Games 1 and 2, refused to go down that path on Saturday.
They made the big shots when the game was on the line.
Defensive stops for the Celtics were no longer treated as though they were optional.
“Our whole team was aggressive; our whole team played with the right mentality,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And most important, they responded to their good runs and tough shots, really well and pushed leads out.”
With the Celtics ahead 51-48 in the second quarter with less than three minutes remaining, Brad Stevens went with a 6-foot-8-and-under lineup that included 6-foot Kemba Walker, 6-4 Marcus Smart, 6-7 Jaylen Brown, 6-8 Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward who is also 6-8.
Rather than fade like we saw Celtics units do in the second quarter of previous games, this group flourished at both ends of the floor as Boston closed out the half with a 12-2 run.
Jaylen Brown: Lots of Celtics stepped their level of aggression up in Game 3, but it was the play of Jaylen Brown at both ends of the floor that really set the tone. He would finish with a team-high 26 points to go with seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
Bam Adebayo: Miami’s best player for most of the game, Bam Adebayo didn’t have as many clean runs to the rim as we saw in Games 1 and 2. Still, the All-Star center was very much a factor most of the night, finishing with a double-double of 27 points and 16 rebounds along with three steals.
Jayson Tatum: While not quite as efficient scoring the ball (9-for-20) as he or the Celtics would have liked, Tatum delivered another strong, dominant performance. He finished with a double-double of 25 points and 14 rebounds and came just short of a triple-double when he dished out eight assists.
Kemba Walker: Boston needed a strong showing from Walker and he came up with a solid game, scoring 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting to go with six rebounds.
Tyler Herro: Aside from Adebayo, there was no one more impactful in Game 3 for the Miami Heat than Herro. His shot-making, particularly in the second quarter, was a major key to Miami being within striking distance on multiple occasions in Game 3. He would lead all reserves in Game 3 with 22 points which included a quartet of three-pointers.
Goran Dragic: Marcus Smart spent more time defending Dragic than he did in the first two games, and it showed. Dragic finished with 11 points on 2-for-10 shooting, tallying as many turnovers (5) as assists (5) and had a staggering minus-29 plus/minus for the game.
Jimmy Butler: The late-game surge we’ve come to expect from Jimmy Butler never came for Miami. He would tally 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting, to go with eight rebounds but his impact was non-existent for most if not all of the game.