Heat battles Celtics rally to take 2-1 ECF lead


Heat battles Celtics rally to take 2-1 ECF lead

What initially looked like a Heat frenzy on Saturday turned into a sweat for Miami as their top player was sidelined.

But when the game was over, the Heat emerged with a hard-fought 109-103 win over the Boston Celtics and secured a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference series. They were so late without Jimmy Butler, who missed the entire second half with a knee infection. After a total of 16 points in Games 1 and 2, Bam Adebayo propelled the Heat to victory with his best game of the series.

Bam Adebayo reacted after struggling in Games 1 and 2. (David Butler II/Reuters)

Another conference final? Not quite

The Heat dominated most of the first half en route to a 46-20 lead in the second quarter that prompted a chorus of boos from the TD Garden crowd. While Miami caught fire from 3-point range, Boston struggled with turnovers on their home court. But the Celtics rallied to apply pressure before the break with a 10-0 run to end the second quarter and cut their lead to 62-47. Jayson Tatum’s 3-pointer to close the half gave them hope.

Surprise scratch in the second half for Jimmy Butler

Things got even worse for Miami after halftime when the Heat announced early in the third quarter that Butler would not be returning. He was a surprise scratch, having played most of the first half with no obvious outward signs of injury.

The Celtics, meanwhile, continued their momentum into the fourth quarter while overcoming their own injury fears against Marcus Smart and Tatum. With 2:40 remaining, they cut the heat lead to 93-92 with a Jaylen Brown 3-pointer. But Miami clamped down on the defense late as the turnovers that plagued the Celtics all game sealed their fate as the Heat retreated to victory. A steal by Kyle Lowry in the Boston backcourt with 48 seconds remaining set up a layup by Max Strus to give the Heat a 103-94 and end the game.

To sweeten the win, the Heat seemed to end the game with good news about Butler’s injury. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported in the fourth quarter that the Heat don’t expect Butler’s bad knee to force him to miss Game 4 on Monday.

The Celtics can take comfort in the fact that they left the game with no serious injuries. Smart appeared to suffer a serious sprained ankle early in the third quarter, only to return minutes later and end the game. Tatum collapsed to the ground and went to the dressing room late in the fourth quarter after apparently injuring his shoulder in a collision. But like Smart, he returned to court moments later.

Turnovers condemn Celtics as Tatum struggles

Boston excavated its early deficit with poor ball security, turning the ball 11 times in the first half against an aggressive Miami defense that turned the misses into easy buckets at the other end. Despite their rally, the Celtics didn’t improve in the second half as they totaled 23 turnovers for the game. Look no further than Boston’s stars as culprits. Brown accounted for seven giveaways while Tatum counted six.

Brown did his best to even out the miscues with a game-high 40 points and nine rebounds. But Tatum couldn’t find rhythm against Miami’s defense in a 10-point, 6-rebound attempt while shooting 3 of 14 from the field.

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics reacts in the third quarter against the Miami Heat in game three of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden on May 21, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTICE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph, the user agrees to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Jayson Tatum underperformed in Game 3. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Heat only turned the ball eight times throughout the game. They were cooling off from deep after hitting five of their first seven 3-point attempts. But her 12-of-32 efforts (37.5%) from deep were more than enough to maintain her lead when combined with her opportunistic defense. That, plus Adebayo’s big night.

Bam put on a show

The Heat center nearly doubled their scores in their first two games, catching 31 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. He had his shots counted from the ground in a 15-of-22 effort while posting a game-high plus-17 in the plus/minus column. He underscored that with a contested 17-foot jumper on the wing in the final two minutes of the game that smashed the shot clock and extended Miami’s lead to 98-92.

Adebayo’s critics from Games 1 and 2 can have no qualms about Saturday’s effort. Meanwhile, PJ Tucker had 17 points, seven rebounds and three steals while Strus added 16 points and four rebounds. Victor Oladipo took Adebayo and Lowry off the bench with four powerful steals.

After two blowouts in both teams’ favor, the Heat survived late pressure on Saturday to claim their first contested win of the series. The pressure is now shifting right back to Boston, who need to win Game 4 at home to avoid an eliminator on the road in Game 5.

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