In danger of falling behind three games to one and heading to Miami for an elimination game, the Celtics instantly made it clear Monday there would be no let-up in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Their top-ranked defense suffocated the Heat during a first quarter in which more than eight minutes passed before Miami even made a shot, and they hardly let up after that, rolling to a 102-82, wire-to-wire win at TD Garden that evened this series at 2.
Game 5 is Wednesday night.
Jayson Tatum had 31 points to lead the Celtics, who won handily despite shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 8 of 34 from the 3-point line. Guard Marcus Smart sat out because of a sprained ankle.
Victor Oladipo had 23 points off the bench for Miami, but no Heat starters finished in double figures. The 18 points from their starting five was the lowest in a playoff game since 1970-71, according to ESPN. Guard Tyler Herro sat out because of a groin injury.
Observations from the game:
⋅ This game was, for all intents and purposes, over early in the fourth quarter. Miami even went to an all-bench unit and acknowledged it. But no one told Al Horford.
When Payton Pritchard and Jaylen Brown miscommunicated on a rebound and watched it go out of bounds, he let them know. Moments later, he swatted a Caleb Martin shot out of bounds, much to the delight of the crowd. Horford has been locked in this entire postseason, and had 13 rebounds and four blocks on Monday.
⋅ The Celtics biggest issues in their Game 3 loss were coughing up turnovers and getting roasted by Bam Adebayo. In the first half Monday, Boston committed three turnovers and held Adebayo to 3 points on 1 for 2 shooting. (He finished with 9, half the starters’ output.) Miami’s halfcourt offense simply isn’t that dangerous, especially with Herro sidelined. If the Celtics can simply take care of the ball, they really should have a substantial edge in this series.
⋅ Derrick White started the game by rolling in a floater, and a small moment like that can do so much for a player who is struggling. White promptly drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key, then drove down the lane with confidence and converted a layup, providing a noticeable and necessary burst. Interestingly, players from both teams combined to start 0-for-12 amid White’s 3-for-3 flurry.
⋅ The Celtics eventually provided White some support, but Miami’s entire offense remained stuck in mud. Eight minutes, 39 seconds into the game, the Heat had mustered just 1 point and missed all 14 of their shots.
There were some open misses mixed in there, but Boston’s defense deserves plenty of credit, especially with the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year watching from the bench. White was excellent, disrupting Miami’s ball-handlers at the point of attack, and the mere presence of Robert Williams made Heat players think twice whenever they began to probe the lane.
⋅ Williams was excellent, registering 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks in less than 19 minutes. But midway through the third quarter, it became apparent that he’s still dealing with the left knee pain that made him a game-time decision.
During one long stretch of back-and-forth action, he was limping up and down the court and clearly laboring. He even let Kyle Lowry blow right past him on one play. The lopsided score at least saved him from more wear and tear, but it’s certainly worth monitoring his status moving forward.
⋅ There were a few times in the first half when the Heat looked in position to make a run, but it never transpired in large part because of some clumsy fouls when Boston was in the free-throw penalty. The Celtics attempted 26 free throws in the opening half, with plenty coming on non-shooting fouls.
⋅ When Tatum’s been in funks this year, he has typically snapped out of them by attacking. That’s what happened in the first half Monday.
Even though he missed all four of his 3-point attempts, he went to the break with 20 points anyway because he lowered his head, found openings, and sought contact. He took 14 free throws in the half and made 6 of 7 two-pointers.
⋅ Rebounding numbers will always look wonky when a team misses a million shots, as the Heat did in the first half. But Boston did well punishing Miami’s smaller lineups on the offensive glass, particularly when it went to a zone defense.
⋅ Herro gave the Heat a boost in Game 1 when he came off the bench and helped slice a big early Boston lead in half, so his absence Monday felt glaring. But his replacement, Oladipo, was the lone bright spot for the Heat in the first half.
The veteran, who has battled injuries over the last few years, hit 3 of 4 3-pointers and scored 18 points. If there’s any carryover from this performance into Game 5, it would clearly be quite meaningful for Miami.
⋅ The Celtics were furious after Jimmy Butler attempted 18 free throws in Game 1. He simply overpowered them. He didn’t take any Monday.