BOSTON — Playing the second half without star Jimmy Butler, the Miami Heat earned an important road victory, beating the Boston Celtics 109-103 on Saturday in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Building a 25-point lead in the second quarter and nearly squandering it in the second half, the shorthanded Heat held off Boston’s rally to take a 2-1 series lead.
Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and PJ Tucker had 17 points, including four key free throws late in the fourth quarter and seven rebounds.
After Boston’s Jaylen Brown hit a 3-pointer to cut Miami’s lead to 93-92, the Heat scored the next seven points for a 100-92 lead with 1:07 left in the game.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said an MRI was not needed for Butler (right knee inflammation), and a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports that Butler shouldn’t be missed at all moment. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about Butler’s status.
Game 4 is Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
Here are the key takeaways from Miami’s win:
Adebayo aggressive from the start
Adebayo had a quiet Game 2 in the Celtics’ blowout victory. During Saturday morning’s shootout, Spoelstra said: “We want him to be more involved, and I need to do a better job of making sure he’s involved, engaged, getting us to our triggers. … He’s a very important part of our offense and how we operate.”
The Heat made a conscious effort to get him involved early. Adebayo responded with 12 of his 16 first-half points in the opening quarter. Those 16 points tied his total from the first two games of the series.
It was a necessary effort from Adebayo.
“He’s a winning player,” Spoelstra said. “And you know, he really is the heart and soul of our group. You can count on him all the time. He doesn’t get caught up in all the noise and stuff. He’s just out there competing. Playing in winning basketball. Doing both ends and doing what is necessary. Tonight we needed the score and we needed some kind of offensive punch from the start.
Boston’s Robert Williams (knee pain) missed Game 3. Butler did not return for the second half due to right knee inflammation, and Boston’s Marcus Smart, Defensive Player of the Year , went to the locker room with an apparent foot problem at 10:57 of the third quarter. He limped back with 6:52 remaining in the third and quickly hit a 3-pointer, cutting Miami’s lead to 72-62.
Boston star Jayson Tatum went to the locker room with 5:18 left in the fourth quarter with an apparent shoulder/arm injury. He also returned to the game.
Miami’s Tyler Herro also has an undisclosed injury.
Smart (sprained right foot) and Al Horford (COVID-19 protocols) missed Game 1, a Celtics loss, and Heat point guard Kyle Lowry (strained left hamstring) missed the first two games of the series.
Tatum struggles to score
Tatum didn’t score his first point until 8:49 into the second quarter and was just 3-of-12 shooting, including 1-of-6 from 3-point range, with nine points in three quarters.
He finished with just 10 points on 3 of 14 shooting, including 1 of 7 on 3s. He had just two points and no scoring basket in the second half.
“Six turnovers and no second-half placements are unacceptable,” Tatum said. “I have to play better.”
Brown (40 points, 9 rebounds) and Horford (20 points, 14 rebounds) carried the Celtics offensively. Smart added 16 points.
Lowry returns for Heat
Lowry, playing for the first time on the show, had an immediate impact. He dictated the pace, found open shooters, controlled the offense with his composure, made a first 3-pointer and had a steal.
Lowry finished with 11 points, six assists and four steals.
“It was good to be back,” he said. “Honestly, I’ve only played four games, before tonight, in the playoffs. It’s hard trying to find a rhythm. But just having the opportunity to be there with my guy is always fun.”
Painful turnovers for the Celtics
Boston committed 24 turnovers, leading the Heat to 33 points. The Heat had just nine turnovers for the Celtics’ nine points.
Brown had seven turnovers, Tatum had six, Smart four and Horford three. The Celtics were also sloppy with the basketball in the third quarter of Miami’s Game 1 victory.
The Celtics had a late turnover on an inbounds pass after Miami’s Victor Oladipo made a free throw, leading to a Max Strus layup and a 103-94 Heat lead.
“When you flip the ball 24 times and give them 33 points, you dig yourself a hole,” Udoka said. “Credit, we fought back and got a one point game and made a few mistakes and more turnovers. But you dig yourself in this big hole from playing in a crowd, we understand how they’re going to keep us. They all do the sets. Charging and penetrating and over-penetrating and putting yourself in tight spots instead of relying on your teammates. That’s sometimes the result.
Mini-crisis for late Celtics
After cutting Miami’s lead to 103-97, Smart fouled and received a technical foul, turning his sixth foul into a 3-point play, and Grant Williams was flagged with a flagrant foul 1 with 24 .7 seconds left and the Celtics trail 106-100. Oladipo made one of two free throws and the Heat retained possession.
Oladipo’s huge effort
Heat reserve Victor Oladipo did not play in the first half. But he started the second half in place of Butler, and while he had just five points, he also had four steals.
“Not playing at all and then stepping in and doing what he did in the second half, that level of professionalism is rare,” Tucker said.
quote of the night part I
“They beat us like we stole something in Game 2. So that ignited a fire in all of us.” — Adebayo
Quote of the Night Part II
“Let me go back to our cave and assess. I haven’t even really had a chance to talk to our coaches and then I’m cursed if I talk to our coaches in front of our players. That’s why we like guys in the locker room.” – Spoelstra on who might be available to play in Game 4.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.