Monday, June 17, 2024
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Celtics’ Jrue Holiday snatches Game 3 victory from Pacers with clutch steal vs. Andrew Nembhard

Late in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday, Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday stole the ball from Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard in transition. The play was so nice that Al Horford called it “unbelievable” twice. 

“Man, that was unbelievable. That was an unbelievable play,” Horford told reporters. “A guy like that, coming full speed, him having the instincts to do that. He is just, you know, his instincts — he’s just a winner. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to.” 

This was not Holiday’s only big moment in the clutch. A couple of possessions earlier, Holiday had attacked the basket, gone right through Indiana forward Pascal Siakam and finished with his left hand, then completed the and-1 to give the Celtics their first lead since early in the second quarter. Moments after the steal, he was fouled by Siakam again in transition, and he made both ensuing free throws. 

The thievery, though, is what will be remembered. It is a quintessential Jrue Holiday play, one that virtually no one else in the NBA makes consistently. With Nembhard going downhill, Holiday squared his body and beat him to the spot, then, with one clean, left-handed swipe, took the ball away. 

“I think I just made a play,” Holiday said. “I feel like he’s a right-hand driver and he’s been very, very aggressive all night. Great player, had a great game. But just made a play. I kind of jumped his right hand and got the steal.”

“He got in front of me,” Nembhard told reporters. “I lost the ball, slipped, turnover.”

Two years ago, The Athletic’s Eric Nehm dubbed this particular move “The Jrue.” Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez, then Holiday’s teammate, told The Athletic, “I don’t know how he does it. He does it so fast, it’s like he’s not even reacting. He just times it just right. It’s nuts. It’s phenomenal.”

“That’s a trademark steal that he always gets with the inside hand,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla told reporters after the 114-111 victory on Saturday, which put the Celtics up 3-0 in the series. “He gets that a lot, usually when the guy is coming down the sideline, but he got it in transition. So I’d been looking forward to a couple of those. He hasn’t gotten as many as I would like him to have gotten this year. But he made a big-time play.”

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was much less enthused about it. In the immediate aftermath, he expressed his displeasure to the officials about the lack of a foul call. And while he didn’t specifically comment on the play in his post-game press conference, he told reporters, “There were a lot of things out there that I disagreed with, that I think any Indiana fan would disagree with.”

Boston went on a 13-2 run in the final two and a half minutes of the game. 

Carlisle’s assessment: “We missed some shots, and there were some plays where they could have gone a different way, is the best I can say it. Just very disappointed.”

Holiday’s steal followed a missed layup by Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. Carlisle could have called timeout, given that the Pacers did not have the numbers as Nembhard pushed the ball, but, postgame, it didn’t sound like he was second-guessing his decision.

“With eight or nine seconds left, and you’re in transition after a miss, I trust our players to be able to create a better shot than calling timeout, having them set their defense and run our end-of-game stuff on their video and show their players,” Carlisle said. “It’s more of a ‘play basketball’ type situation. And we’ve done well this year trusting our players.” 

That Holiday played hero is remarkable because, leading up to the game, he was listed as questionable with a non-Covid illness. He missed shootaround in the morning, and at night he played 38 minutes, finishing with 14 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block.

“He was sick, dealing with chills and stuff like that,” Tatum said. “And we’ve all been there, how tough that is to fight through it. And for him to come out there and lay it all on the line for us and make the game-winning play essentially, especially on the defensive end, Jrue is just a big-time player. And he made a tremendous play.”

Horford said that Holiday “stepped up in such a big way for us in that moment,” then he mentioned the and-1 and the clutch free throws, too. This is far from the first time that the 17-year veteran has seen Holiday make game-changing plays, but it’s their first playoff run together and he appreciates this vantage point.

“I’m so fortunate to be playing next to him,” Horford said. “I don’t take it for granted.”

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