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 109-103. 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 rallying after disappointing losses, which is an essential quality because they have 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.
“My neck got caught in a weird position,” Tatum said. “Obviously I went down and felt pain and discomfort in my neck and down my arm, then I went to the back, got it checked out, and started to get some feeling back and I had it checked out by the doctors and did some tests and decided to give it a shot.”
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.
“It’s happened to us a few times in this playoff series,” Horford said bluntly. “It’s something we keep fighting, and it seemed like every time we got into position, we turned the ball around.”
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.
“I did that job today taking care of the basketball,” Brown said. “But just being stronger, driving them and continuing to be aggressive and continuing to reach the basket and continuing to do what I do but be stronger when I get there. They let a lot go by tonight, especially when I feel like I’m driving and coming to the basket, I feel like I have both hands on me the whole time. I never get these manual verification calls.
“But I’m not looking for excuses. We are improving. I did my job taking care of the ball today. I have to do better.
Given the disparity in free throws, Brown’s comments about officials might fall on deaf ears.
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.
“I feel like I left the guys hanging tonight,” Tatum said. “It’s on me. I admit it. It was difficult.
Asked about Tatum’s periodic nights, Udoka said his issues were just “figuring out how [the Heat] are going to protect you,” then pivoted to talk about team-wide issues.
“All [the Heat] we were talking about was improving their physique, being embarrassed at home, and that’s what we talked about, not being caught off guard or complacent or happy to have a win at home, and figure out how they’re going to keep guys, be physical, and we didn’t match that from the start,” Udoka said. “It looked like we kind of withered under their pressure and started complaining to the referees and we got knocked out early on.”
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.
5. After scoring just 16 points in Games 1 and 2 combined, Bam Adebayo had a huge night – 31 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Butler was superb in Game 1, but the Heat bring a lot more than Jimmy Butler to the table.
A reporter pointed out to Udoka that having Robert Williams – who missed Saturday’s game with knee pain – could have made a big difference against Adebayo.
“Adebayo kind of put his shoulder in whoever was guarding him, in his chest, so Rob can’t save the day until then,” Udoka said. “Guys have to own this game and defend like we are capable of.”
6. Once again, the Celtics are playing their season. The Celtics and Heat announce Game 4 Monday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.
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