8 takeaways as Jayson Tatum and Celtics beat Heat in Game 4


The Celtics are on the ropes, but they’re not done yet.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum heads to the basket over Heat forward Jimmy Butler. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

The Celtics’ Eastern Conference Finals showdown against the Heat isn’t over yet.

Facing elimination for the third time in the playoffs, the Celtics improved to 3-0 – although reducing their deficit against the Heat to just 3-1 – with a 116-99 win that sent the series back to Boston.

Here are the takeaways.

1. We’ll go over all the good things the Celtics have done, and there have been plenty of them.

But before that, the state of the series forces us to put the context in place: can you imagine if the Celtics had taken care of business once, only once, before this? The Celtics are quite capable of beating the Heat. We knew it. The Celtics knew it. The Heat probably knew that, despite the confidence visibly dripping from every pore in the first three games.

And yet, the Heat built a 3-0 lead that made Tuesday’s win that much less notable. Had the Celtics failed to get the ball to Butler three times in the fourth quarter of Game 1, the series is tied going back to Boston, and the Celtics once again have home-court advantage.

That’s what losing both home games cost you. That’s what it costs you to completely let go of the rope in Game 3. The Celtics should be favored in this series after their Game 4 win, not facing a tough historic battle that requires all that lying.

Game 4 should have been – at worst – the moment the Celtics regained control of the series. Instead, it’s the first leg of a climb up a hill that no NBA team has ever managed to scale.

2. Maybe the good news for the Celtics is that they now get unlimited Jayson Tatum elimination games.

After scoring 51 goals to fend off the 76ers in Game 7, Tatum lost 34, including 11 rebounds and seven assists to elimination in Miami. The Heat couldn’t stop their forays down the rim. The Celtics reversed their shots when Tatum came out of the double teams, keeping the floor spaced.

Tatum still returned the ball five times, but it was a start. Everything the Celtics did on Tuesday may have been at least a game too late, but it was definitely a move in the right direction.

3. The Celtics made 18 of 44 3-point attempts (40.9%) while the Heat went 8 of 32 (25%).

The key to this series isn’t exactly a secret. The Heat shot an otherworldly percentage from behind the arc, while the Celtics couldn’t find the distance even when generating a good look.

If the Celtics have any reason to take heart while trailing 3-1, they can take heart in this: The Heat were unlikely to stay as blindly hot as they were at depth, and there was little probable that the Celtics will be cold for four years. -stretching the game. The big question now is whether the Celtics can string together four straight games of good shooting from behind the arc.

4. Al Horford fired three triples in the first half and finished 3 for 6 while Grant Williams shot 4 for 6 from deep. That 7-for-12 tally coming from two crucial floor spacers could have been as essential as anything the Celtics did outside of Tatum’s big night.

Williams had a bizarre season — in and out of rotation, constant talk of his overtime, a playoff run that didn’t include any of the teams that best suited his style of play — but his performance over the last three matches is a good reminder of why he is valuable to this team. He’s a versatile defender, he can shoot 3s, and when everyone respects the Heat a little too much, he’s not afraid to get in Jimmy Butler’s face. It backfired in Game 2, but Williams crushed a turnover from Butler in Game 4 at a big moment in the fourth.

5. This play seemed like a perfect summary of the whole series for the Celtics: do what you want, good or bad. A Heat role player is about to respond with a 3-pointer back and forth.

6. Butler scored 29 points and had a big stretch in the third quarter to try to keep the Heat tied, but he was just 9 for 21 from the field. Butler has been playing well, especially on the defensive end, and he seemed to be in the lead for the Celtics going into Game 4, but he’s only shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and scoring 25.5 ppg.

The 3-0 lead the Heat have built is as much about the incredible play of their role players – or rather, the “undrafted guys” as the TNT show seems unable to help but repeat over and over again – as it comes to the singular brilliance of Butler himself.

7. This brings us to perhaps the main reason why Tuesday’s game felt like a time to sit down and say “Huh” rather than just blaming it on a gentleman:

  • Gabe Vincent: 1 for 4 out of three, four turnovers
  • Kyle Lowry: 1 for 5 of three, four turnovers
  • Duncan Robinson: 0 for 4 of three, two turnovers
  • Bam Adebayo: 10 points, four turnovers

Believe what you want to believe. Doubt what you want to doubt. But the Celtics actually made the Heat uncomfortable, and a Miami team that thrived on an aura of invincibility suddenly looked fallible for the first time against a team that was objectively much better all year.

Again: it may be too late, but it’s a start.

8. Jaylen Brown still hasn’t really escaped — 17 points, 7 on 16 shooting — but he finished with just one turnover and four assists. It goes to show how expensive the Celtics’ turnovers have been, especially their star turnovers, that Brown’s turnover seemed like a hugely substantial improvement.

The Celtics and Heat will face off again in Boston on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. If the Celtics win that one, maybe things will get a little spicier.


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