The Celtics have had some hard-fought, hard-fought wins since the playoffs began, but nothing like what the Heat won in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday.
The Heat were without Jimmy Butler in the second half after Butler sat out with knee inflammation (after the game, Chris Haynes reported that Butler is fine, which seems at least somewhat unlikely given that a maniacally competitive player has had 24 of the greatest minutes of the season). Officials gave the Celtics a 30-14 advantage in free throw attempts, which was actually even bigger before the Celtics foul on the stretch. The Heat didn’t even shoot particularly well — 11 for 33 from deep after a hot start.
And somehow, the Heat always found a way to hold on and win in the second half. The Celtics won or tied the last three quarters after a disastrous opening streak in which the Heat went up 26 points, but Miami’s lead slowly dissipated and the Celtics never quite found the game. tap to speed it up. Jaylen Brown’s 3-pointer late in the fourth cut the Heat in the lead, but the Heat had a final response – Max Strus buried a 3-pointer with two minutes left, Adebayo scored and Kyle Lowry capped a comeback extremely successful with clutch stealing.
Considering 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 understates how the Heat reacted after Thursday’s beating. Both teams are clearly capable of throwing haymakers, and both are clearly capable of absorbing them and fighting back.
During this playoff series, the Celtics have been very good at pulling themselves together after disappointing losses, which is a key quality because they’ve had some really disappointing losses. On Saturday, they were overworked and pushed around by a Heat team and lost despite a plethora of upsides.
Now they must rally again.
2. Saturday’s match was a war of attrition, so here’s the post-match podium injury toll: Robert Williams is “really” day-to-day according to Ime Udoka and could return as early as Monday. Marcus Smart rolled his ankle in a chilling scene captured by on-court cameras, but Udoka believes he will be fine going forward. The same goes for Jayson Tatum, who suffered a sting.
Erik Spoelstra had no health updates on anyone in his squad. Both Lowry and PJ Tucker have been injured, and it’s unclear what’s going on with Butler.
3. Jaylen Brown scored 40 points, but he struggled tremendously against Miami defensive pressure and turned the ball over seven times. He and Tatum (six) have combined for 13 of the Celtics’ 21 turnovers. In a game they won by six, the Heat beat the Celtics 33-9 in points on turnovers.
Again, the Heat have a lot to do with it, but if the Celtics hope to advance, it is imperative that they stop returning the ball. The fact that they’ve already fixed this once in Game 2 makes Saturday’s performance particularly odd.
4. Tatum was 3-for-14 and 1-for-7 from deep with his six turnovers. When he returned to the game in the fourth after suffering his sting, a Celtics run that had finally had some teeth immediately crumbled.
If you’re a Celtics fan looking for some hope on a brutal Saturday, you could do worse than the fact that it’s deeply unlikely that Tatum will be this bad again on Monday.
The Celtics and Heat announce Game 4 Monday at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.
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