Monday, May 27, 2024

Jrue Holiday, Al Horford come up big to save Celtics in Game 3 victory

The Celtics are one victory away from returning to the NBA Finals following an 18-point comeback Saturday night to beat the Indiana Pacers on their home floor -- where they hadn't lost all postseason.

While Jayson Tatum led the way with an historic near triple-double of 36 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists (also zero turnovers), it was the play of Al Horford and Jrue Holiday -- especially down the stretch -- that saved the C's to give them a 114-111 victory in Game 3.

It's no surprise that the two oldest players on the roster came up huge when the team needed them most and in the case of Holiday, who was listed as questionable with a non-COVID related illness, it was his defense that sparked the Celtics' rally in the fourth quarter.
"Yeah, I didn't feel too well," Holiday told reporters. "I guess I just figured if I could get a day’s rest or tried to sleep through it, that would help me for tonight. But it's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. I wasn't going to miss this game."
Holiday on a pass from Tatum, drove for the game-tying layup with 38.2 seconds left and got fouled on the play.  The 34-year-old hit the ensuing free throws to put Boston up for good (112-111).
"I think I just saw a chance and took an opportunity," Holiday said of the bucket. "I felt like he was on his heels. He wasn't really expecting me to attack downhill. So I attacked him and just tried to be aggressive and got the and-1."
But the biggest play of the night came in the final seconds, when Holiday made an off-balanced steal on Andrew Nembhard, as the Pacers (playing without Tyrese Haliburton) tried to score quick in transition following a missed Tatum layup on the other end. Holiday was grabbed on a take foul by Pascal Siakam with 1.1 on the clock.
"I think I just made a play," Holiday said. "I feel like he's a right-hand driver and he had been very, very aggressive all night. Great player, had a great game. Just made a play. I kind of jumped his right hand and got a steal."
Holiday comfortably knocked down both free throws to cap a 13-2 Boston run and secure a commanding 3-0 Eastern Conference Finals series lead in the process. The point guard scored nine points in the final frame, including going 3-of-3 from the field and 3-of-3 from the free throw line, to go along with five rebounds, an assists and of course the most important steal.
"It was definitely a team effort," said Holiday on the C's late-game surge. "I think from being down 18, we knew that we can lock in defensively and be better, and it showed. But it was definitely a team effort." 
Horford, who had his moments throughout the comeback, gave Holiday (14 points, nine rebounds and three steals) his props on the game-sealing steal to put away the Pacers and hand them their first playoff loss at home.
"He's just a winner," Horford said of Holiday during his postgame comments. "I'm so fortunate to be playing next to him."
The veteran big man would also put his fingerprints on Game 3, netting 23 points on 7-of-12 from deep, while grabbing five rebounds and blocking three shots. Horford, soon to be 38-years-old (next week), set a league record for the oldest player to hit seven 3-pointers in the playoffs.
"First of all, for me, it's the glory to the Lord for giving me this opportunity, putting me in this position," Horford said Saturday. "I've been very blessed to still be in this position, to be able to play at this type of level, to be a part of a team like the Celtics. Really making sure I'm doing everything I can to contribute to the team."
With Kristaps Porzingis out with a right soleus strain in his calf since last month, Horford has stepped into a starter role -- while playing increased minutes. Despite moments of defensive struggles against Cleveland in the second round and shooting struggles from beyond the arc, Horford has played well in Porzingis' absence averaging 10.2 points on 46.8% shooting.

It was Horford that was the beneficiary of a behind-the-back pass from Tatum to knock down his seventh 3-pointer of the night to get the Celtics within two with just over a minute left to play in Game 3 against the Pacers. The two teammates have played 85 playoff games together to mostly success, but have yet to reach the ultimate goal of winning a championship.
"These past few years we had some battles," Horford said. "We've been through it. We understand that we've had some grueling tough series, and this one's no different. This team is a very good team, they're very dangerous, there's a reason why they're here."
The addition of Holiday, the only member on the Celtics to have won a title, playing alongside All-NBA players like Tatum and Jaylen Brown -- is a good reminder that even with making it to the East Finals in the past, having someone like Holiday on the team has paid dividends. 
"It's definitely a blessing," said Holiday on being in the Conference Finals. "I don't take this for granted at all. It's my 15th season, so to go to it twice, I know JT and JB have been here too, many times, but this is my second time. So I'm here and I'm appreciative, and I'm going to do what I can to get through this series."
Horford, Holiday and the Celtics will look to close out the Pacers Monday night, as ESPN has the tip-off of Game 4 at 8:00 pm ET

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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