Celtics bounce back with Game 3 road win over Cavaliers

CLEVELAND — Over the past few seasons, three things have been consistent about the Boston Celtics‘ deep playoff runs: They’ve played long series, they’ve struggled at home and they’ve excelled on the road.

It remains to be seen if the Celtics can change the first two. But in Saturday’s Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics ensured the third would continue.

Behind a clinical defensive effort and impressive performances from stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston beat the Cavs 106-93 to take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.

“We were just trying to get a win, understanding that we didn’t play as well as we wanted to in Game 2,” Tatum said. “And it was a great test and opportunity for us to come out and respond and play better and play harder and all those things.”

Over the past three seasons, Boston is 14-14 in 28 home playoff games, the most played over a three-year span without posting a winning record in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. However, in those three seasons, the Celtics reached the NBA Finals in 2022 and the conference finals last season, and they are favored to make a deep playoff run this year largely because they’ve gone 17-7 on the road.

After a lackadaisical effort in their Game 2 loss, one that included what Brown called an “unacceptable” defensive performance, the Celtics ratcheted things up at both ends on Saturday to ensure another road victory — their fifth straight in the postseason, dating back to last year’s playoffs.

Tatum and Brown led the effort, combining to score 61 points — 33 for Tatum and 28 for Brown — as the Celtics shot 51% from the field and went 13-for-34 (38.2%) from 3-point range.

“I think we just need everybody to be on the same page and everybody to come out with the right effort,” Brown said. “That’s 85% of the battle right there. We come out, we play hard and then we’re on the same page and the rest will take care of itself. We got enough talent in the locker room to beat teams.

“But if we’re not on the same page and we’re not playing hard, those are when we get ourselves in trouble. So making sure, before the game at film and shootaround, talking to everybody, touching everybody, letting everybody know that, ‘Hey, we’re not here to play around.’

“We didn’t come to Cleveland for the weather, so let’s go.”

That mindset was especially evident in Boston’s defensive intensity. Despite a spectacular 33-point performance from Donovan Mitchell, the Celtics still largely controlled the game by clamping down on the rest of Cleveland’s options.

Besides Mitchell and Evan Mobley, who had 17 points but didn’t have the same mobility after injuring his left foot/ankle in the third quarter, the rest of the Cavs combined for 43 points on 17-for-51 shooting, including 5-for-23 from 3-point range.

“I just think we didn’t hit the same shots we did [in Game 2],” Mitchell said. “For us, just being able to finish … we missed a lot of shots at the rim, myself included, missed a lot of shots that I think we just got to make. And also we didn’t really shoot that great from 3, but not a bad percent, but we didn’t shoot that well. So I think those are different things and we got to get our looks and take them, because if we don’t, we’re driving back into the crowd and they want us to. So being able to take our shots, when they’re open.”

Now the Celtics need another strong road performance in Game 4 in order to return home with a chance to close this series out. Can they avoid slipping up like they did in Game 2 and giving Cleveland a chance to get back into it again?

“It’s the playoffs,” Brown said. “Anything can happen, especially if you come out flat. We’ve got to do a better job of that, we can’t think like this series is going to go like last series. We’ve got to come out and have the same defensive effort going into Game 4 and that’s just the urgency we need to have.”

First appeared on www.espn.com

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