The Celtics have stressed how much they relish playoff games at TD Garden, how there is nothing quite like the atmosphere, and how opponents should take cover.
And Saturday night certainly felt like one of those nights. Organic chants began to rumble well before tipoff, and the crowd was prepared to explode once it was given good reason to.
Boston was coming off a loud, statement-making romp over the Heat in Game 2 of these Eastern Conference finals, and many expected that tidal wave to continue on what appeared to be an inextricable march to the Finals.
Then the game began, and Miami stuffed all of that energy, all of that emotion, and all of those good vibes into its pocket. It roared to a 21-point first-quarter lead, withstood a predictable fourth-quarter comeback, and eventually held on for an impressive 109-103 win that gave it a 2-1 series lead.
“They just upped their pressure, upped their aggressiveness on both ends,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said, “and we didn’t match it.”
Over 12 quarters in this series, the Heat have outscored the Celtics in just two of them. But both have been loud, punishing and direct, and they’ve both led to wins. There was the 25-point third-quarter destruction in Game 1, and then the 21-point first-quarter romp in this game.
In both cases, the demolition, although somewhat brief, was too severe for Boston to overcome.
On Saturday the Celtics were undone by 24 turnovers that led to 33 Heat points. It was a forgettable night for Jayson Tatum, who had six turnovers, made just 3 of 14 shots and scored 10 points. Jaylen Brown finished with 40, including 14 in the fourth-quarter comeback, but he also committed seven turnovers.
“I did a [expletive] job taking care of the ball today,” Brown said. “I’ve got to do better.”
Center Robert Williams missed the game due to knee soreness.
The Heat won despite the fact that All-Star forward Jimmy Butler sat out the second half because of a sore knee. Multiple reports indicated that it is not expected to be a serious issue, but he did miss a game in the opening-round series against the Hawks because of this problem.
On Saturday, Bam Adebayo did enough to cover for Butler’s absence, making 15 of 22 shots and finishing with 31 points and 10 rebounds. Miami also welcomed back former All-Star Kyle Lowry, who missed the first two games of the series because of a lingering hamstring injury. He had 10 points, 6 assists, and 4 of his team’s 19 steals, and his presence at both ends of the court felt more significant than those numbers.
“It’s tough trying to find a rhythm,” Lowry said. “But just having an opportunity to be out there with my guys is always fun.”
During team meetings, film sessions and shootarounds over the past two days, Boston’s coaches and veterans preached caution. They knew this veteran Heat team was embarrassed by its 25-point home loss in Game 2, and that it was determined to do something about it.
But during the Heat’s dominant first quarter, the smash-mouth approach still seemed to catch Boston off guard. There were several rounds of boos when Boston fell behind by as many as 26 points before halftime.
“We knew who Miami is,” Brown said. “That’s what they pride themselves on is physicality. If we want to win this series, we’ve got to match that intensity. We’ve just got to man up.”
When the Celtics closed the first half with a furious 10-0 run and Butler was ruled out for the rest of the game because of knee soreness, there was new hope.
Boston had a pair of injury scares as it began to mount a comeback, with Marcus Smart being helped to the locker room with an ankle injury in the third quarter before Tatum did the same after suffering a shoulder stinger in the fourth.
Smart’s return was especially dramatic, with footage of him coming down the hallway toward the court shown on the scoreboard’s video screen, and the roar reaching a crescendo when he emerged from the tunnel. After he drilled a 3-pointer moments later to pull Boston within 10, with Butler not there to steady the Heat, Miami appeared on the brink of collapse.
And in the fourth quarter, Brown led the signature Boston comeback that had seemed like it would be a formality. With Boston trailing, 93-82, he grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a three-point play with 5:17 remaining.
Tatum then went to the locker room after suffering a shoulder stinger, and Brown kept charging. He converted a pair of baskets in the paint and drilled a 3-pointer that made it 93-92 with 2:39 left.
But then Max Strus, a former Celtics two-way contract player, drilled a deep 3-pointer from the right arc and Adebayo hit a tough 17-footer before the shot-clock expired. Finally, Tatum committed Boston’s 23rd turnover of the game when he threw the ball away, a fitting end to a forgettable night.
The Celtics are now just 4-3 at home in these playoffs, but the good news is that they have reached this point in the playoffs in large part because they have been excellent on the road, so now they will just have to win in Miami at least once more to keep their season alive.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach