Celtics Insider

Blakely: Is small ball lineup a game-changer for the Celtics?

Celtics Insider

The Boston-Miami playoff series is far from over. 

But after dropping the first two games to the Heat, there was an undeniable must-win mentality for the Celtics in part because of the friction that surfaced inside the locker room after the Game 2 loss. 

And for all that Boston did well in its 117-106 Game 3 win, the Celtics’ success was fueled in part by a second-quarter stretch that may very well have saved their season. 

“The run at the end of the first half was a great one, in response to when they cut it to four or five right there,” Stevens said.

The five-man set of Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Jayson Tatum at “center,” was a unit seldom used by the Celtics during the regular season. 

Blakely: Five key adjustments the Celtics made in Game 3

The reason?

While the individual talent is undeniable, their collective play was grimace-worthy when you look at the numbers. 

According to NBA.com/stats, that five-man unit had an offensive rating of 97.4 during the regular season and a defensive rating of 118.9. To put that in perspective, the offensive rating as a group is worse than any of the five players had during the regular season individually. Ditto for the defensive rating. 

But in the playoffs, the group has maximized their limited time together in an extremely positive manner for Boston. 


Nothing but Net

The net rating for the Celtics' lineup of Walker-Tatum-Brown-Smart-Hayward in seven minutes this postseason.

They have played a total of seven minutes in two games, with an offensive rating of 162.5 and a defensive rating of 76.5, both of which are uber-elite numbers. 

There's no telling how much Boston will turn to this group in Game 4. But considering the players involved and the success they had with this group in Game 3, there's a very good chance we'll see this unit sooner rather than later in Game 4.

And when looking back on all that went right for Boston in its Game 3 win, their play in the final 2:39 of the second quarter stood out. 

Celtics Talk Podcast: After Game 3 victory, are the Celtics winning this series vs. Heat? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

That is when Boston closed out the quarter with a 12-2 run, fueled by Boston’s elite defense setting the transition game offensively in motion.

The run began with Gordon Hayward making a free throw to push Boston’s lead to 52-48.

Soon after, Jaylen Brown’s defense on Jimmy Butler led to a Miami turnover that led to an uncontested dunk for Jayson Tatum. 

(Click here to watch the play.)

A miss by Miami’s Tyler Herro was rebounded by Jayson Tatum, whose quick outlet pass led to another uncontested dunk, this time by Brown.

(Click here to watch the play.)

A Brown steal led to a finish at the rim while being sandwiched between Butler and Bam Adebayo. 

(Click here to watch the play.)

The Celtics continued to pull away in the second quarter, which ended with Boston up 62-50. 

By the time the Celtics returned to start the third quarter, their lead had increased to 63-50 after officials reviewed a shot made by Kemba Walker that was initially ruled a two-pointer only to be changed after a video review showed Walker taking the shot behind the 3-point line. 

Forsberg: Hayward is here to stay after Game 3 win

While there was plenty of game left to be played following the team’s second-quarter surge, the success of that group did more than help Boston get a win.

Those five players are arguably Boston’s most skilled players. Their ability to play well in concert with one another at both ends of the floor now becomes another thing the Heat have to prepare for leading into Game 4. 

As for the Celtics, the group’s success now gives Stevens another tool to work with as he tries to devise a game plan that will even up this series at two games apiece and put Boston back on track in achieving the goal that matters the most to them -- competing for an NBA title this year.