Jrue Holiday stepped up in a big way in Celtics’ two wins in Cleveland

Jrue Holiday stepped up in a big way in Celtics’ two wins in Cleveland
Jrue Holiday stepped up in a big way in Celtics’ two wins in Cleveland

BOSTON — The Celtics got big performances out of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on Monday night, as Boston held on for a 109-102 win over an undermanned Cavaliers team to take a 3-1 series lead. But the Celtics likely wouldn’t be in this position without the efforts of Jrue Holiday over the last two games.

Holiday got off to a slow start this postseason, shooting just 36 percent from the floor while averaging 8.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.9 assists over his first seven playoff games with the Celtics. Boston didn’t need him to put up big numbers with the likes of Tatum, Brown, and Derrick White handling much of the scoring, and Holiday continued to be a menace on defense.

But with White going cold in Cleveland (5-for-19 over the two games), and the Celtics still without Kristaps Porzingis, someone had to step up and be that third guy behind Tatum and Brown. Holiday did that and more in both Games 3 and 4 against the Cavaliers.

Holiday went 7-for-10 from the floor in Game 3 for 18 points, adding eight rebounds and five assists, and followed that up with a 16-point, 7-rebound, and 5-assist evening in Game 4. He shot 61 percent over the last two games, going 7-for-12 from downtown.

Holiday was on the floor for 43 minutes on Monday, and the Celtics needed him to do Jrue Holiday things the entire time. The Cavaliers played like a desperate team without their star, as Donovan Mitchell was sidelined with a calf injury, and the Celtics looked like a team that was treating the game like a regular-season tilt and not a Game 4.

Minus Holiday, that is. The Celtics let double-digit leads evaporate in both halves on Monday night, and at times it seemed like Holiday was the only one keeping the Cavaliers from taking over.

With Mitchell out, it was Darius Garland who led a late charge for the Cavaliers, scoring 13 of his 30 points in the final frame. Garland was doing whatever he wanted for the most part — except when Holiday was locking him down. Garland was just 2-for-11 with Holiday as his primary defender, holding the Cleveland guard to five points. Garland was 10-for-16 against all other Celtics defenders.


Only Caris LeVert had success against Holiday on Monday night, hitting three of his four shots when Holiday was guarding him. Outside of LeVert, Holiday held his defensive assignments to 4-for-19 shooting overall and 2-for-11 from downtown.

In a frantic fourth quarter, Holiday was the calming presence the Celtics needed. Throughout the game, he stepped up offensively as White (1-for-6) and Al Horford (3-for-9, 0-for-4 from three) struggled to make buckets, and he locked in defensively to keep the Cavaliers from stealing a win and evening the series.

The Celtics haven’t really been tested this postseason. Monday night was more of a pop quiz, and Boston was able to pass thanks to the leadership of Holiday, the only player on the roster who owns a championship ring.

“I think it’s just the will to win,” Holiday said of the C’s first single-digit win of the postseason. “We know that they’re not going to come out and just lay down. We expected this, and we kind of wanted it.”

Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla has loved what he’s seen out of Holiday over the last two games. He said the Celtics are a much different team when Holiday is aggressive on both ends of the floor.

“He’s finding his groove offensively with his shot selection and his playmaking. And then defensively, just the versatility. I mean, we must have played five, six different defenses tonight, and he has the ability to communicate those, get the matchup where they need to go. He’s been great,” said Mazzulla.

Holiday and White have given the Celtics one of the league’s most dangerous backcourts. Both are savvy defensive players who can make life miserable for opposing players, and can just as easily get hot from the floor on the offensive end.

“They’re our X-factors,” Jaylen Brown said of that tandem. “I think when one of them is playing well or both of them are playing well, it makes us extremely tough to beat.”

The last two games, it has been Holiday stepping up and making a big difference for the Celtics, who are now just one win away from returning to the Eastern Conference Finals.

“Jrue had it going tonight, and that’s the Jrue we need to go forward,” added Brown.

Matt Geagan

Matthew Geagan is a sports writer and producer for CBS Boston and wbz.com. He has been part of the WBZ sports team for nearly 20 years.

 
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