With Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler ruled out at halftime because of a knee issue, and with the Celtics already having chipped away at a 26-point deficit, there was suddenly renewed hope on a night when it once seemed to be disappearing quickly.
Despite trailing by 17 with 11 minutes left, Boston roared back and pulled within 1, but the run fizzled there, as the Heat held on for a 109-103 win at TD Garden Saturday, giving them a 2-1 lead in these Eastern Conference finals.
Game 4 is Monday night in Boston.
Jaylen Brown had 40 points and 9 rebounds to lead the Celtics, but he also committed seven of Boston’s 24 turnovers. Jayson Tatum had just 10 points on 3 of 14 shooting. Robert Williams missed the game because of knee soreness.
Bam Adebayo tallied 31 points (after scoring just 16 in the first two games) and 10 rebounds to lead Miami, but Butler’s health will now become the most important storyline of this series. The All-Star missed one game with a similar issue in the opening round against the Hawks.
He at least helped the Heat to a 15-point halftime lead before his exit, but it felt like they were just trying to survive without him.
The Celtics trailed, 93-82, when Grant Williams missed a 3-pointer with 5:23 left. But Brown pulled down the offensive rebound and converted a three-point play. Tatum appeared to suffer a shoulder injury away from the ball and was helped to the locker room, but Brown kept going.
He scored inside and hit a layup, and after Tatum returned, poured in a 3-pointer that pulled Boston within 93-92 with 2:40 left. The Garden was rumbling.
But then Max Strus, a former Celtics two-way contract player, drilled a deep 3-pointer from the right arc to give his team some breathing room. Adebayo added a tough 17-footer before the shot clock expired, and Tatum committed Boston’s 23rd turnover of the game when he threw the ball away.
Observations from the game:
⋅ The Celtics looked in an excellent position to bounce back in the third quarter after Butler was ruled out, but just one minute into the period, Marcus Smart went down in a heap with an apparent ankle injury and signaled for medical attention.
He was helped to the locker room with the assistance of two trainers, and the building went silent. But anyone who has seen Smart play should know better than to believe he was done. He has both an immense pain threshold and a flair for the dramatic, and in this case he came jogging out of the tunnel about five minutes later to an absolute roar from the crowd.
He promptly drilled a 3-pointer to pull Boston within 72-62.
⋅ That moment felt like it would be a turning point, but it wasn’t. The Celtics got in their own way by fumbling the ball and tossing errant passes. They committed seven turnovers in the quarter, and when the dust cleared and the fourth began, the deficit remained the 15 points it was at halftime. Tatum’s six-turnover third quarter in Game 1 cost Boston, and in Game 3, Brown was the culprit, with five of them.
Sometimes he simply tries to do too much off the dribble, especially when play appears frantic.
⋅ The Celtics have often spoken about the lift they get from their rowdy home playoff crowd, and there’s no doubt it’s one of the rowdiest. But it hasn’t really translated to wins in these playoffs. With this loss, the Celtics are just 4-3 at TD Garden. The Warriors, their most likely NBA Finals opponent, meanwhile, are still undefeated at home.
“We are excited for our fans to rally behind us, but we need to just be more consistent at home and come out with the right sense of urgency,” Al Horford said.
⋅ Tatum has had some magnificent performances in these playoffs, but he’s still hunting for his consistency. In 14 games, he has shot 33 percent from the field or worse four times. He’s also had seven turnovers twice, and six three times, including Saturday.
“That is unacceptable,” Tatum said. “I’ve got to play better. I feel like I left the guys hanging tonight.”
⋅ Heat point guard Kyle Lowry returned after missing the first two games of this series because of a nagging hamstring issue. He did not seem to be at full strength when he came back for two games in the semifinals against the 76ers, but he certainly appeared to be moving well in this game. He pushed the pace and ignited the Heat’s fast start, and his mere presence seemed to give his teammates a different level of confidence and swagger.
And he remains a pest, too. After Boston had built some momentum late in the second quarter and got a stop with a chance to continue it, Lowry swooped in and ripped the ball from Smart, leading to a Butler three-point play. Then, with Miami holding a 7-point lead with 48 seconds left in the fourth, he did it again, swooping in for a steal on a lazy baseline inbounds pass by Grant Williams.
“That’s the impact he has on the game,” coach Ime Udoka said, “but when you give them 24 turnovers it’s obviously a lot easier to get out and run, and he’s the head of the snake as far as that, pushing the pace and tempo.”
⋅ It was a bit surprising to see Daniel Theis start in place of Robert Williams, especially considering how well Grant Williams has played during this postseason, including his key role in Boston’s second-quarter run after subbing in for Robert Williams. Udoka said it was partly so Horford could keep his usual role at power forward, but it certainly didn’t work well at the start, with Adebayo torching Boston inside.
Theis played eight first-half minutes, and had no points and two rebounds. Grant Williams started the second half in place of Theis, whose minutes were later paired with Heat backup Dewayne Dedmon.