The Celtics have had some tough, hard-fought victories since the start of the postseason, but nothing quite like what the Heat achieved in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday.
The Heat were without Jimmy Butler in the second half after Butler sat down with a knee infection (post-game reported Chris Haynes that Butler is doing well, which seems at least somewhat unlikely given that an insanely competitive player sat 24 of the biggest minutes of the season). The officials gave the Celtics a 30-14 advantage on free throw attempts, which was even greater before the Celtics started fouling the stretch. The Heat didn’t even shoot very well – 11-to-33 from deep from a hot start.
And somehow the Heat still found a way to hold on and win 109-103. The Celtics won or tied the final three quarters after a disastrous opening stretch that saw the Heat surge as much as 26 points, but Miami’s lead was slowly fading and the Celtics never quite found the peg to accelerate it. Jaylen Brown’s 3-pointer late in the fourth cut led the Heat to one, but the Heat had one last answer – Max Strus buried a 3-pointer with two minutes left, Adebayo scored and Kyle Lowry capped a hugely successful return with a clutch steal.
Given that the Heat won the game almost entirely on live ball turnovers, it’s tempting to say the Celtics threw away a winnable game, but that minimizes the Heat’s reaction after Thursday’s beatdown. Both teams are clearly capable of throwing Haymakers and both are clearly capable of absorbing and hitting back.
During this postseason, the Celtics have been really good at bouncing back from disappointing losses, which is an essential trait as they’ve suffered some really disappointing losses. On Saturday they were overwhelmed and overwhelmed, and they lost despite a plethora of advantages.
Now they have to collect themselves again.
2. Saturday’s game was a war of attrition, so here’s the injury record from the podium after the game: Robert Williams is “really” back to normal according to Ime Udoka and could be back as early as Monday. Marcus Smart rolled his ankle in a creepy scene captured by cameras on the pitch, but Udoka expects he’ll be fine going forward. The same goes for Jayson Tatum, who suffered a stinger.
“My neck caught in a weird position,” Tatum said. “Obviously I went downstairs and felt pain and discomfort down my neck and arm and then went to my back and had it checked and started to get feeling again and had the doctors check it out and ran some tests and decided to give it a try.”
Erik Spoelstra had no health updates for anyone on his team. Both Lowry and PJ Tucker have nursed injuries, and it’s unclear what’s going on with Butler. He will not receive any more MRIs.
3. Jaylen Brown scored 40 points but struggled tremendously against Miami’s defensive pressure, turning the ball over seven times. He and Tatum (six) combined in 13 of the Celtics’ 21 turnovers. In a game they won by six points, the Heat outscored the Celtics 33-9 in turnover points.
“That happened to us a few times this playoff run,” Horford said bluntly. “We keep fighting for that and it seemed like every time we put ourselves in a position, we turned the ball around.”
Again, the Heat had a lot to do with it, but if the Celtics hope to progress they absolutely need to stop turning the ball. The fact that they’ve already solved this problem once in Game 2 makes Saturday’s performance particularly odd.
“I got a job today and I took care of the basketball,” Brown said. “But just be stronger, push them and keep being aggressive and keep getting to the basket and keep doing what I’m doing but be stronger when I get in there. They’re releasing a lot of stuff tonight, especially when I feel like I’m driving and getting to the basket I feel like there’s two hands on me all the time. I never get those hand check calls.
“But I don’t apologize. We’re getting better. I took care of the ball today. I have to do better.”
Given the disparity in free throws, Brown’s comments about the officials could fall on deaf ears.
4. Tatum was 3-for-14 and 1-for-7 from the deep with his six turnovers. Coming back into play in the fourth after his stinger, a Celtics run that finally had some bite fell apart immediately.
“I feel like I let the boys down tonight,” Tatum said. “It’s on me. I acknowledge that. That was a tough nut to crack.”
When asked about Tatum’s regular nights off, Udoka said his problems are just “understanding how [the Heat] will protect you,” and then turned to talking about team-wide issues.
“All [the Heat] what was talked about was improving their physicality, being embarrassed at home and that’s what we talked about, not being surprised or complacent or content to get a win at their house and understanding how they guard guys become, be physical, and we didn’t manage that from the start,” said Udoka. “It seemed like we kind of slacked off under their pressure and started complaining to the refs and taking ourselves out of the game from the start.”
If you’re a Celtics fan looking for a little hope on a brutal Saturday, you could do worse than the fact that Tatum most likely won’t be as bad again on Monday.
5. After averaging just 16 points combined in Games 1 and 2, Bam Adebayo had a great evening – 31 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Butler was outstanding in Game 1, but the Heat brings a lot more to the table than just Jimmy Butler.
A reporter remarked to Udoka that Robert Williams – who missed Saturday’s game with knee pain – could have made a big difference against Adebayo.
“Adebayo put his shoulder in the chest of whoever was guarding him, so Rob can’t save the day that far,” Udoka said. “Guys need to take on and defend this matchup as we are capable of doing that.”
6. Once again the Celtics are playing for their season. The Celtics and Heat announce Game 4 Monday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.
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