Jrue Holiday was at his best in Game 3, and that’s exactly what the Celtics need


Holiday put together arguably his finest performance as a Celtic on Saturday night.

Jrue Holiday was everywhere for the Celtics in Game 3.

CLEVELAND — Celtics fans with short memories and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately demands have witnessed Jrue Holiday deliver enormously impactful plays in the NBA playoffs before Saturday night, even if for some reason the recollections elude them.

Example: In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals two years ago, it was Holiday, then the second-best player on the Bucks, who blocked Marcus Smart’s shot and threw the ball off him out of bounds to steal a possession late in Milwaukee’s victory.

Then, a moment later at halfcourt, Holiday stripped the ball from Smart to prevent a last-gasp heave and slap an exclamation point on the Bucks’ win. (The Celtics did come back to win the series, so this has a happy ending.)

More recently and in a broader sense, Holiday’s dogged perimeter defense was a significant reason that the Heat could not replicate the sizzling shooting performance from their Game 2 win against the Celtics in the first round. Holiday, in his first playoff series as a Celtic, helped avoid any further unnecessary drama against a depleted nemesis.

But as important as Holiday has been to the Celtics — he’s the de facto Smart upgrade, more poised, conventional, and just plain better — there was sense that there was more to get from him.

He’s the lone Celtic with a championship ring and a two-time All-Star, and yet his role on offense often devolved into a bystander, waiting in the corner while Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown cooked.

Friday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Holiday cooked too. He was impactful and aggressive on offense from the opening tip while playing his usual tireless defense, and the result was arguably his best performance as a Celtic.

Holiday, after scoring just 4 points in Game 2, scored 18 in Game 3 on 7-of-10 shooting, while also collecting 8 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists in 38 minutes of playing time in the Celtics’ impressive 106-93 victory.

It was Holiday at his best, and it was exactly what the Celtics needed.

“Jrue was amazing tonight,’’ said Tatum, who led the Celtics with 33 points and, save for a couple too many step-back jumpers in the fourth quarter, played a stellar all-around game himself. “Jrue is kind of like the glue that keeps us all together. He literally does everything that we need him to. He sacrifices, sometimes taking single-digit shots a couple of games in a row.

“He can attack the mismatches, he can post up, he can obviously shoot the three. When he’s being aggressive and in that great rhythm, it just makes us that much better.”

Jaylen Brown, who played an exceptional game himself with 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting, was more succinct in his praise than Tatum, but just as accurate.

“Jrue is a dog. … Tonight was just a masterclass from him,’’ said Brown. “What a game for Jrue.”

Holiday sent a message on the Celtics’ first possession of the game that he had no intention of being a bystander on this night, backing down a Cavaliers defender for a lefty layup for the Celtics’ first points. Holiday attacked for a righthanded layup before three minutes had elapsed, and by the end of the quarter he already had 8 points, doubling his Game 2 output.

He may have been even better in the second quarter, when the Celtics extended their lead after Tatum sat down at the 10:45 mark.

The best sequence: He drove for another layup to put the Celtics up 34-32 at the 9:34 mark, then on the Celtics’ next possession he hauled in an offensive rebound on a Derrick White miss and passed up a putback to find Sam Hauser for a wide-open 3 and a 37-32 lead.

A little more than a minute later, Holiday buried a triple of his own to extend the lead to 45-38. He finished the first half with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting as the Celtics took a 57-48 lead into the break. The Celtics held the Cavaliers to just 8-of-24 shooting in the second quarter, and yes, of course Holiday was instrumental on that end too.

Holiday, who afterward was more inclined to talk about his teammates’ contributions than his own, did acknowledge that he thought attacking early and making the dynamic Donovan Mitchell (33 points) work as hard as possible on the defensive end would benefit the Celtics as the game played out.

“I knew Donovan was going to be aggressive on one side of the ball,” said Holiday. “There were a lot of times where I might [usually] defer or do something, I thought attacking him might get him more exhausted by the third or the fourth quarter … [Jaylen was] telling us to be aggressive, telling me to be aggressive, ‘if you get aggressive, then I’ll switch onto Donovan,’ just being a leader in that way.”

The Celtics, after some inspiring and amusing words by Brown at halftime — “We didn’t come to Cleveland for the weather, so let’s go,’’ he said — seized the game with a 14-0 run to start the third. Holiday drained a wide-open 3 to put the Celtics up 71-48 at the 9-minute mark, and the Cavaliers’ attempts at a run or a rally were thwarted the rest of the way.

“We’ve been here before, this year, where we were up 20 in the fourth quarter and they came back and won,’’ said Holiday, referencing the infamous Dean Wade Game on March 5 when the unsung Cavalier scored 20 points in the fourth quarter by himself in the stunning comeback. “I think we know what kind of firepower they have, what kind of team they are, really great scorers, so we felt like coming in and punching them in the mouth right out of the gate [in the second half].”

With the series back in their favor, the next question is whether the Celtics can maintain the same approach for Game 4, similar to how they won Games 3 and 4 in Miami after losing Game 2 at the Garden.

If the selfless Jrue Holiday, a star and a champion with a role player’s attitude, comes out swinging again, who wouldn’t like their chances?

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