What initially looked like a Heat romp on Saturday turned into a sweat for Miami with its best player sidelined.
But at the end of the game, the Heat emerged with a hard-fought 109-103 win over the Boston Celtics to secure a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals series. They did it late without Jimmy Butler, who missed the entire second half with knee inflammation. After totaling 16 points in Games 1 and 2, Bam Adebayo propelled the Heat to victory with their best game of the series.
Another conference final? Not enough
The Heat dominated most of the first half en route to a 46-20 second-quarter lead that drew a chorus of boos from the TD Garden crowd. While Miami caught fire from 3-pointers, Boston struggled with turnovers on their home court. But the Celtics rallied to put pressure on the Heat before the break with a 10-0 run to end the second quarter and cut their deficit to 62-47. Jayson Tatum’s 3-pointer to close the half gave them hope.
A surprise scratch in the second half for Jimmy Butler
Things got worse for Miami after halftime when the Heat announced early in the third quarter that Butler would not return. He was a surprise scratch after playing most of the first half without any obvious outward signs of injury.
The Celtics, meanwhile, continued their momentum in the fourth quarter while surviving injuries of their own against Marcus Smart and Tatum. With 2:40 remaining, they cut the Heat’s lead to 93-92 with a 3-pointer Jaylen Brown. But Miami ended the defense late as the turnovers that plagued the Celtics throughout the game sealed their fate as the Heat pulled away for the win. A Kyle Lowry steal in Boston’s 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 victory, the Heat appeared to end the game with good news about Butler’s injury. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported during the fourth quarter that the Heat did not anticipate Butler’s ailing knee causing him to miss Game 4 on Monday.
The Celtics can take comfort in that they left the game without serious injury. Smart appeared to suffer a serious ankle sprain early in the third quarter only to come back a few minutes later and finish the game. Tatum collapsed to the floor and left for the locker room late in the fourth quarter after appearing to injure his shoulder in a collision. But like Smart, he returned to court moments later.
Turnovers doom Celtics as Tatum struggles
Boston widened its early deficit with poor ball safety, turning the ball over 11 times in the first half against an aggressive Miami defense that converted mistakes into easy buckets at the other end. Despite their rally, the Celtics did not improve in the second half as they totaled 23 turnovers for the game. Look no further than the Boston stars as culprits. Brown accounted for seven gifts while Tatum counted six.
Brown did his best to make up for mistakes with a game-high 40 points and nine rebounds. But Tatum failed to find a rhythm against the Miami defense in a 10-point, six-rebound effort while shooting 3 of 14 from the field.
The Heat, meanwhile, only turned the ball over eight times the entire game. They cooled deeply after making five of their first seven 3-point attempts. But their 12 of 32 efforts (37.5%) from deep were more than enough to maintain their advantage when combined with their opportunistic defense. That, plus Adebayo’s big night.
Bam puts on a show
The Heat center nearly doubled his goal production in the first two games while tallying 31 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. He made his shots count in a 15-for-22 effort from the floor while posting a plus-17 in the plus/minus column. He punctuated the performance with a contested 17-foot jumper off the wing in the final two minutes of the game that beat the clock and extended Miami’s lead to 98-92.
Adebayo’s critics of Games 1 and 2 have no qualms about Saturday’s effort. Meanwhile, PJ Tucker had 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 record four interceptions.
After a pair of blowouts in favor of each team, the Heat survived the late pressure on Saturday for the series’ first contested victory. The pressure is now squarely on the Celtics, who will need to win Game 4 at home to avoid a road playoff in Game 5.