Rejuvenated by a lengthy layoff following their Game 3 victory, the Boston Celtics look to even their Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night near Orlando.
The Celtics dropped the first two games of the best-of-seven series before leading wire-to-wire in a 117-106 win Saturday. The game was followed by three days off for scheduling purposes, with the series set to resume its every-other-day format Wednesday.
Boston is looking to win consecutive playoff games for the first time since the start of its second-round series against the Toronto Raptors. Miami attempts to respond to just its second loss of the postseason.
The Celtics were aware of the break they would be afforded when they leaned heavily on their stars in Saturday’s crucial win. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker combined for 72 points, each playing more than 40 minutes. Even Gordon Hayward, who took the court for his first game since an ankle injury sustained on Aug. 17 sidelined him for more than a month, played 31 minutes off the bench.
“I didn’t anticipate playing him 31 minutes, but I didn’t think he looked like he was completely gassed either,” said coach Brad Stevens. “I thought there were times where he obviously wanted to come out, and we took him out for a quick breather. I was more worried about the conditioning aspect of it than necessarily the structure of the ankle.”
With Hayward back in tow, Boston maintained control throughout Game 3. The Celtics shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and outscored the Heat 60-36 in the paint, leading by as much as 20 in the fourth quarter.
It was a much-needed response for a team that showed signs of cracking with a locker room shouting match as reported in the wake of losing Game 2.
“Even though we go through adversity, we still are a family and we are going to need to have moments like that where we go through adversity, we say what we have to say, we all come together and get our emotions out, and we go take it out on the other team,” said guard Marcus Smart.
Miami has been even-keeled throughout the series, with players often citing the trust they have in each other as a factor. But after falling behind by double digits in each of the first three games of the series (14 points in Game 1, 17 points in Game 2), the need for more urgency is apparent.
“I think it gets old, playing from behind consistently,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “Especially against a great team like Boston and what they bring to the table.”
Butler is averaging 17.0 points per game through the first three games, ceding scoring responsibilities to Bam Adebayo (22.0) and Goran Dragic (21.7). The five-time All-Star might need to be more aggressive as the Celtics try to battle back.
“We have to play basketball the way we have been playing the games that we have been winning,” Butler said. “We understand that. There’s nothing that coach can say. There’s nothing that (team veteran Udonis Haslem) can say. We get it. We have to be the ones to fix that.”
–Field Level Media