BOSTON — Still angry over a searing loss to Miami that cost them home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat took a 25-point first-half lead over the Celtics of Boston in Game 3.
Then Bam Adebayo made sure it was enough – barely – to give Miami a 2-1 lead in the best of seven series.
The Heat center scored 31 points with 10 rebounds, filling a void left by injured All-Star Jimmy Butler and leading Miami to a 109-103 win Saturday night. Adebayo also had six assists and four of the Heat’s franchise-record 19 steals in the playoffs.
“He did his version of what Jimmy does: ‘Do what’s necessary for the game,'” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Tonight we needed the score and we needed that attacking punch from the start.
“Then when Jimmy was out in the second half, he just stabilized us,” Spoelstra added. “It got a bit gnarly there and when it happened we were able to send the ball to Bam and get something consistent.”
The Celtics never led, but they cut a 62-37 one-point deficit, 93-92, with 2:40 left on a 3-pointer from Jaylen Brown, who finished with 40 points. Max Strus answered with a 3, then Adebayo bounced off defender Al Horford and made a basket at the clock buzzer to give Miami a six-point cushion.
The Celtics have never come close.
Game 4 is Monday night in Boston.
“In the previous match, as everyone noticed, they beat us like we stole something,” Adebayo said. “That should wake everyone up. Getting beat up at home like that says it all.
In a bruising game that saw Boston’s Butler and Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart leave with injuries – although both Celtics returned – Kyle Lowry returned from a four-game absence and scored 11 with six assists for the Heat. PJ Tucker — like Lowry, a game-time decision — scored 17 for Miami.
Horford scored 20 points with 14 rebounds and Smart scored 16. Tatum had 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting; he also had six turnovers, and Brown has committed seven of Boston’s 24 turnovers in the 2022 playoffs.
“Six turnovers and no field goals in the second half – that’s unacceptable,” Tatum said. “Honestly, I have to play better. I feel like I let the guys hang tonight. It’s on me.
After losing Game 2 at home by 25 points, the Heat opened up a 62-37 lead with less than three minutes left in the second quarter. Then Boston scored the final 10 points of the half to get back into the game.
Things got worse for the Heat when they announced at halftime that Butler, who scored 41 in Game 1 of the series, would not return with an inflamed right knee.
Miami still led 15, 87-72, after three, and made it a 17-point game on Adebayo’s field goal to start the fourth. But the Celtics missed the next nine points to find themselves in single digits for the first time since the opening three minutes of the game. Trailing 93-80, the Celtics scored 12 straight points — 10 by Brown — to make it a one-point game with 2:40 to go.
Miami scored the next seven points.
“We didn’t think all of a sudden it was going to be an easy series and they were going to turn around,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said. “We bounced from Game 1 to Game 2, and they were going to do the same thing and we had to match that and came out flat for some reason.”
Boston opened the second with a field goal to make it a 13-point game, but the building went quiet when Defensive Player of the Year Smart fell into a collision with Lowry as he searched for a stray ball and needed help with the locker room.
Smart returned five minutes later to a huge cheer when the scoreboard showed him walking down the tunnel towards the pitch. He came back with seven minutes left in the third and hit a 3-pointer that made it a 10-point game, 72-62, and forced the Heat to call timeout.
The situation repeated itself when Tatum fell into obvious pain five minutes from the end of the fourth. He went straight to the locker room, clutching his right side, but also returned to the cheers of the crowd.
“My neck got caught in a weird position,” Tatum said. “Obviously I went downstairs and felt pain and discomfort in my neck and arm. I went to the back, got it checked out and started to feel better and i got it checked by the doctors and i did some tests and i decided to give it a shot.
Lowry has missed eight of the Heat’s previous 10 games with right hamstring strain, last playing in Game 4 of Miami’s second-round series with Philadelphia. Tucker had pain in his left knee but was also part of the starting lineup.
“I don’t have any updates on anyone,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll just go back to our cave and regroup and maybe I’ll have some information for you tomorrow.”
The Celtics played without center Robert Williams III, who missed three second-round games against Milwaukee with pain and a bruised bone in his surgically repaired left knee. Daniel Theis started in his place. Derrick White returned after missing Game 2 to be at the birth of his first child.
New York Post