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As Rivers Cuomo once belted out, “Say it ain’t so!” That’s surely how NBA fans are feeling after Saturday’s Game 3 between the Heat and Celtics was bitten by the injury bug yet again. Miami has listed four or five players on the injury report nearly every day since the playoffs began, and the Celtics have dealt with injuries to Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Robert Williams.
Williams sat again Saturday and Smart was forced out of the game briefly before returning. Jayson Tatum also had to leave the game for a couple of minutes in the fourth quarter. Kyle Lowry returned after missing the Heat’s last four, but Jimmy Butler left this one in the second quarter and did not return due to knee inflammation.
This was an ugly game from start to finish as Miami sprinted to a 39-18 first-quarter advantage and led by as many as 26 in the first half. With Butler out, Miami yielded much of the ground it gained in the first half, and the Celtics used a 12-0 run late in the fourth quarter to cut the score to 93-92. That’s the closest the Celtics got, though, as Max Strus hit a big three to end the run, and the Heat finished the quarter on a 16-11 run to claim victory.
Boston lost the turnover battle by a crushing margin of 23-8. The 23 turnovers are the most in a playoff game since 2004 and the third-most in Celtics’ history, while Miami’s 19 steals are a franchise record. Careless mistakes with ball security cost Boston a winnable contest, and even with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, a lazy inbounds pass was stolen by Kyle Lowry and dished to Max Strus for an easy two points. Marcus Smart and Grant Williams fouled out in the final minutes, and the Heat won a game they almost let slip away.
This feels like a series-altering contest. Jayson Tatum finished with 10 points and did almost nothing in the second half. The Heat prevailed despite missing Jimmy Butler for the second half, Tyler Herro having his leg wrapped on the sidelines and Jaylen Brown going off for a career-high 40 points. It’s clear Robert Williams’ presence was missed as Bam Adebayo dominated the paint, and Boston will be hopeful for a Game 4 return. It will be very interesting to see how the Celtics respond after such a back-breaking loss. They experienced a couple of those in the Eastern Conference semis against Milwaukee and still came out on top, so this series is far from over. If the Heat win, this is likely the moment we look back on as a turning point.
Heat 109, Celtics 103
Al Horford finished with 20 points, 14 boards, three assists and three blocks, doing what he could to anchor the frontcourt with Robert Williams out. Horford averaged 13.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.3 blocks and 1.7 triples in six games without Williams this postseason prior to Saturday. Horford finished with a career-high five 20-point games in the 2018 playoffs and has four in this playoffs already.
Marcus Smart, who went off for 24/9/12 in Game 2, compiled 16 points, seven dimes and four boards in Game 3, committing four turnovers and six fouls. He averaged 18.7 points, 9.7 assists, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 stocks and 3.7 triples over three games prior and will need to be better in Game 4.
After scoring 19 in Game 2, Grant Williams scored 10 in Game 3 but only attempted six shots. He’s been big for Boston and hit seven triples in the Game 7 win over Milwaukee. The former Tennessee Volunteer needs to be more involved in Game 4.
Jaylen Brown averaged 24/9/3 with four triples in Games 1-2 but went totally nuclear in Game 3 with a career-best 40-point effort. He had to pick up the slack as Jayson Tatum shot a pedestrian 3-of-14 for just 10 points.
Tatum came into this one with averages of 31.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists over his last six contests. He wilted Saturday, failing to capitalize on a golden opportunity and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the second half. Expect a better performance in Game 4 on Monday.
Bam Adebayo took full advantage of Robert Williams’ absence, posting the second-highest point total of his playoff career with 31 after averaging just 8.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.5 assists in Games 1-2. He added 10 boards, six assists, four steals and a block to his impressive night, making this arguably the finest all-around playoff performance of his career.
Jimmy Butler finished with eight points (3-of-8 FG), three boards, two assists and two steals in 20 minutes. He’s expected to be available for Game 4 in a contest that Miami can use to push Boston to the brink of elimination.
Tyler Herro finished with just eight points on 4-of-15 shooting, but it’s clear that he was far from 100%. Herro is dealing with a quad issue and was seen getting his leg wrapped on the sideline after only 20 minutes on the court. Saturday’s win marks the third time this postseason that he’s scored fewer than 10 points.
Kyle Lowry’s return is certainly good news for Miami, especially if Herro is forced to miss time. Lowry averaged 6.2 points, 5.2 assists, 3.6 boards, 1.0 steals and 1.0 triples in five playoff games this season, and he went for 11 points, six fimes, four steals and a board in Game 3. The Heat should be hopeful that Jimmy Butler is back for Game 4, but if he’s not, at least they’ll have Lowry.
Max Strus averaged just 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 stocks and 2.5 triples in the first two games of the series but went off for 16 points in this one, including five in the final two minutes. He’s been a real difference-maker in the playoffs, thanks to his efficient three-point shooting and hustle going after rebounds.
P.J. Tucker averaged just five points, five rebounds, two assists and a triple in Games 1 and 2, but he came out firing in this one, dropping 17 points (fourth-highest of his playoff career) and adding seven boards, three steals, a dime and a block.