Play of Jrue Holiday, Derrick White has Celtics going in a good way


“I think that they are our X-factors,” Jaylen Brown said of the Celtics’ starting guards.

Jrue Holiday had a team-high four 3-pointers in the Game 4 win that put the Celtics in command of this series. DANIELLE PARHIZKARAN/GLOBE STAFF

CLEVELAND — The pairing of Jrue Holiday and Derrick White in the Celtics backcourt is a luxury that other teams don’t possess.

No other team had two players finish in the top 10 of the Defensive Player of the Year voting this season; Holiday finished sixth and White was eighth.

“I’m just thankful that those guys are on our team,” Jayson Tatum said. “The intangible things that they do on the defensive end night in and night out, whether it’s chasing shooters around or fighting through screens or coming over the top and contesting shots.

“They do it however long they’re in the game. They’re really the anchor of our defense and we just try to match their intensity throughout.”

White and Holiday are tough, savvy, and unselfish guards who value team success over individual accolades. Both are capable of changing the dynamics of a game with their scoring. They have the smarts, size, and skills to create matchup problems.

“I think that they are our X-factors,” Jaylen Brown said Monday, after the Celtics defeated the Cavaliers to take a 3-1 series lead. “I think that when one or both of them is playing well, it makes us extremely tough to beat.

“I think that, no matter what, we’ve got to maintain our defensive identity whether we’re making shots or not. So I just need those two to always be locked in physically on defense, but on offense Jrue had it going tonight.

“Jrue had it going, he was aggressive, and that’s the Jrue that I think we need going forward if we’re going to continue to do what we want to do. And then Derrick continued to take his shots in spots; he made some big shots down the stretch, but continue to stay into the game even if your shot is not falling.”

They’ve lifted each other up throughout this postseason. When one is struggling, the other has been there to balance things out.

White caught fire during the first round against Miami, averaging 22.4 points on 57.7 percent shooting from the field and 47.7 percent from 3-point range.

He has cooled off during the conference semifinals against Cleveland, going 5 for 19 over the past two games.

But Games 3 and 4 of this series brought out the best in Holiday, who turned in his two strongest postseason performances in a Celtics uniform. He averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5 assists while shooting 61.9 percent in those two games.

“It’s great because I know in the first series and the first two games of this one, I was struggling and D-White was balling, going crazy,” Holiday said. “It’s really easy to play off of him because I think we both have been combo guards for most of our careers.

“We kind of have that feel on when to back off and make plays for other people and then when to be aggressive. And then we both play pretty good defense. So, just all-around players just trying to win a game.”

Derrick White (above) and Jrue Holiday are savvy guards who have established chemistry in their first season together with the Celtics.
Derrick White (above) and Jrue Holiday are savvy guards who have established chemistry in their first season together with the Celtics.DANIELLE PARHIZKARAN/GLOBE STAFF

There were a number of possessions Monday night when Holiday’s defense led to clean looks for himself and others on the offensive end.

A prime example came with 9:28 to go in the fourth quarter. Holiday hounded Darius Garland from the corner of the 3-point line all the way to the top of the key. He fought through two screens from Tristan Thompson and still was able to get a hand close enough to bother a hurried shot attempt from Darius Garland.

Tatum grabbed the rebound, then tossed the ball to Payton Pritchard, who dished it to Holiday for a step-back three. Holiday made a team-high four 3-pointers on eight attempts Monday night.

“Again, it goes back to being two-way players,” coach Joe Mazzulla said. “They affect the game differently every night. Sometimes, like you saw Derrick at the start of the third quarter, tonight he only takes six shots but his ball-handling, his offensive organization, his defense.

“And then again, Jrue, two nights in a row taking shots, being aggressive offensively. Those guys come into every game just being open-minded on how they can impact the game in both ways. So it’s a luxury to have them, but all of our guys have done that in the playoffs.”

Shooting touch comes and goes, Brown said, but it’s their willingness to make hustle plays and grind on defense that allows them to impact the game consistently.

“You can still make plays to help you win,” Brown said. “Rebounds, clutch shots, blocked shots, defensive plays, all of that little stuff adds up. We don’t have time to hang our heads. You’ve got a good shooting night or a bad shooting night, you’ve still got to affect the game.

“So, credit to those two. They’ve been professional, but we’ve still got to get more from them as we go forward.”

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