What initially looked like a Heat romp on Saturday turned into a sweat for Miami with its best player sidelined.
But when the game was done, the Heat emerged with a hard-fought 109-103 win over the Boston Celtics to secure a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals. They did so late without Jimmy Butler, who missed the entire second half with knee inflammation. After totaling 16 points in Games 1 and 2, Bam Adebayo powered the Heat to victory with his best game of the series.
Another conference finals romp? Not quite
The Heat dominated most of the first half en route to a 46-20 second-quarter lead that prompted a chorus of boos from the TD Garden crowd. While Miami caught fire from 3-point range, Boston struggled with turnovers on its home court. But the Celtics rallied to put pressure on the Heat before the break with a 10-0 run to finish the second quarter and reduce their deficit to 62-47. Jayson Tatum’s 3-pointer to close the half gave them hope.
Surprise second-half scratch for Jimmy Butler
Things got worse for Miami after halftime when the Heat announced at the start of the third quarter that Butler wouldn’t return. He was a surprise scratch after playing most of the first half without any obvious outward signs of injury.
The Celtics, meanwhile, rode their momentum into the fourth quarter while surviving injury scares of their own to Marcus Smart and Tatum. With 2:40 remaining, they cut the Heat lead to 93-92 with a Jaylen Brown 3-pointer. But Miami put the clamps down on defense late as the turnovers that plagued the Celtics all game sealed their fate as the Heat pulled away for victory. A Kyle Lowry steal in the Boston backcourt with 48 seconds remaining set up a Max Strus layup to give the Heat a 103-94 lead and put the game to bed.
To sweeten the win, the Heat appeared to end the game with good news on Butler’s injury. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported during the fourth quarter the Heat don’t anticipate that Butler’s ailing knee will force him to miss Game 4 on Monday.
The Celtics can take solace in that they exited the game without serious injury. Smart appeared to sustain a severe ankle sprain early in the third quarter only to return minutes later and finish the game. Tatum crumpled to the floor and left to the locker room late in the fourth quarter after appearing to injure his shoulder during a collision. But like Smart, he returned to the court moments later.
Turnovers doom Celtics as Tatum struggles
Boston dug its early deficit with poor ball security, turning the ball over 11 times in the first half against an aggressive Miami defense that converted the miscues into easy buckets on 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 the culprits. Brown accounted for seven giveaways while Tatum tallied six.
Brown did his best to make up for the miscues with a game-high 40 points and nine rebounds. But Tatum failed to find a rhythm against Miami’s defense in a 10-point, six-rebound effort while shooting 3 of 14 from the field.
The Heat, meanwhile turned the ball over just eight times the entire game. They cooled down from deep after hitting five of their first seven 3-point attempts. But their 12-of-32 effort (37.5%) from deep was more than enough to maintain their edge when combined with their opportunistic defense. That, plus Adebayo’s big night.
Bam puts on a show
The Heat center nearly doubled his scoring output from the first two games while tallying 31 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. He made his shots count in a 15-of-22 effort from the floor while posting a game-high plus-17 in the plus/minus column. He punctuated the performance with a contested 17-foot jumper on the wing in the game’s final two minutes that beat shot clock and extended Miami’s lead to 98-92.
Adebayo’s critics from Games 1 and 2 can find no qualms with Saturday’s effort. Meanwhile, P.J. Tucker tallied 17 points, seven rebounds and three steals, while Strus added 16 points and four rebounds. Victor Oladipo tied Adebayo and Lowry off the bench with a game-high four steals.
After a pair of blowouts in each team’s favor, the Heat survived late pressure on Saturday for the first contested win of the series. The pressure now shifts squarely back to the Celtics, which will need to win Game 4 at home to avoid an elimination game on the road in Game 5.