BOSTON — Playing the second half without star Jimmy Butler, the Miami Heat extracted an important road win, beating the Boston Celtics 109-103 on Saturday in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Building a 25-point second-quarter lead and nearly squandering it in the second half, the short-handed Heat held off Boston’s rally to take a 2-1 series lead.
Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and PJ Tucker had 17 points, including four key free throws late in the fourth quarter, and seven rebounds.
After Boston’s Jaylen Brown hit a 3-pointer to cut Miami’s lead to 93-92, the Heat scored the next seven points for a 100-92 lead with 1:07 left in the game.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said a MRI is not necessary for Butler (right knee inflammation), and a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports that Butler was not expected to miss any time. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about Butler’s status.
Game 4 is Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
Here are the key takeaways from Miami’s win:
Adebayo aggressive from the start
Adebayo had a quiet Game 2 in the Celtics’ blowout victory. At Saturday’s morning shootaround, Spoelstra said, “We want him more involved, and I have to do a better job of that, of making sure that he’s involved, engaged, getting us to our triggers. … He’s a very important part of our offense and how we function.”
The Heat made a conscious effort to get him involved early. Adebayo responded with 12 of his 16 first-half points in the opening quarter. Those 16 points equaled his total from the first two games of the series.
It was a necessary effort from Adebayo.
“He’s a winning player,” Spoelstra said. “And you know, he really is the heart and soul of our group. You can count on him all the time. He doesn’t get caught up in all the noise and everything. He’s just out there competing. Playing winning basketball. Doing it on both ends and doing what is necessary. Tonight we needed the scoring and we needed kind of that offensive punch early on.”
Injuries shaping series
Boston’s Robert Williams (knee soreness) missed Game 3. Butler didn’t return for the second half with right knee inflammation, and Boston’s Marcus Smart, the Defensive Player of the Year, went to the locker room with an apparent foot issue at 10: 57 of the third quarter. He returned limping with 6:52 remaining in the third and promptly hit a 3-pointer, cutting Miami’s lead to 72-62.
Boston star Jayson Tatum went to the locker room with 5:18 left in the fourth quarter with an apparent shoulder/arm injury. He also returned to the game.
Miami’s Tyler Herro also has an undisclosed injury.
Smart (sprained right foot) and Al Horford (COVID-19 protocols) missed Game 1, a Celtics loss, and Heat point guard Kyle Lowry (strained left hamstring) missed the first two games of the series.
Tatum struggles to score
Tatum didn’t score his first point until 8:49 of the second quarter and was just 3-for-12 shooting, including 1-for-6 on 3-pointers, with nine points through three quarters.
He finished with just 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting, including 1-for-7 on 3s. He had just two points and no make baskets in the second half.
“Six turnovers and no field goals in the second half, that’s unacceptable,” Tatum said. “I need to play better.”
Brown (game-high 40 points, nine rebounds) and Horford (20 points, 14 rebounds) carried the Celtics offensively. Smart added 16 points.
Lowry returns for Heat
Lowry, playing for the first time in the series, made an immediate impact. He dictated pace, found open shooters, controlled the offense with his calm, made an early 3-pointer and had a steal.
Lowry finished with 11 points, six assists and four steals.
“Felt good to be back,” he said. “Honestly, I’ve only played four games, before tonight, in the playoffs. It’s tough trying to find a rhythm. But just having an opportunity to be out there with my guys is always fun.”
Turnovers painful for Celtics
Boston committed 24 turnovers, leading to 33 Heat points. The Heat had just nine turnovers for nine Celtics points.
Brown had seven turnovers, Tatum had six, Smart four and Horford three. The Celtics were also sloppy with the basketball in the third quarter of Miami’s Game 1 victory.
The Celtics had a late turnover on an in-bounds pass after Miami’s Victor Oladipo made a free throw, leading to a Max Strus layup and 103-94 Heat lead.
“When you turn the ball over 24 times and gift them 33 points out of that, you dig yourself a hole,” Udoka said. “Credit, we fought back and got it to a one-point game and made some mistakes and more turnovers. But you dig yourself in that big of a hole due to playing in a crowd, we understand how they’re going to guard us . They’re doing it all series. Load up and penetrate and over-penetrate and get yourself in tough situations instead of relying on your teammates. That’s the result sometimes.”
Mini-meltdown for Celtics late
After cutting Miami’s lead to 103-97, Smart fouled out and received a technical foul, turning his sixth foul into a 3-point play, and Grant Williams was assessed a flagrant foul 1 with 24.7 seconds left and the Celtics trailing 106-100. Oladipo made one of two free throws and the Heat retained possession.
Oladipo’s huge effort
Heat reserve Victor Oladipo didn’t play in the first half. But he started the second half in place of Butler, and while he had just five points, he also had four steals.
“To not play at all and then step in and do what he did in the second half, that level of professionalism is few and far between,” Tucker said.
Quote of the night, Part I
“They beat us like we stole something in Game 2. So that woke a fire up in all of us.” —Adebayo
Quote of the night, Part II
“Let me get back to our cave and assess. I really haven’t even had a chance to talk to our trainers, and then I’m getting cursed out if I talk to our trainers in front of our players. That’s why we love the guys in the locker room.” — Spoelstra on who might be available to play in Game 4.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.