By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Maybe the Celtics should yell at each other more often. After losing the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals and having a locker room blowout after Game 2, the Celtics led Game 3 wire-to-wire and held off the Heat for a 117-106 win on Saturday night.
Boston looked great for about 44 minutes and then held off a late Miami run to make it a 2-1 series. Strong defense led to some easy looks for the Celtics, and they remained aggressive throughout. Any time Miami cut into their lead they were able to answer, hanging on until the very end.
Jaylen Brown was a bully for Boston and led the charge with 26 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Jayson Tatum had 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in another all-around performance, while Kemba Walker scored 21 and Marcus Smart added 20 points for Boston.
You read that correctly. The Celtics had four players finish with 20 or more points on Saturday night.
The Celtics once again dominated the paint, outscoring Miami 60-36 down low. Most of that had to do with the easy buckets they got in transition, turning 13 Miami turnovers into 19 points. It was exactly how the team needed to play after falling into an 0-2 series hole.
“Just honing in and focusing,” Brown said of the bounce-back win. “There are a lot of great guys in the locker room with a lot of passion. We’re a family at the end of the day and we exemplified that when we came out together and stayed together when they went on runs. We held our heads high and persevered to win the game.”
“The whole team was aggressive and played with the right mentality,” Brad Stevens said after the win. “Most importantly they responded to their runs and tough shots really well.”
Gordon Hayward returned to action for the first time since Boston’s first game of the playoffs and scored six points, pulled down five rebounds and dished out four assists over 31 minutes. He also confirmed that he won’t be going anywhere for the rest of the season, opting to stay in the bubble over heading home to be at the birth of his fourth child in the coming days.
Boston never trailed Saturday night and, for the most part, responded to every one of Miami’s run as they tried to claw back into the game.
“We came out aggressive like our backs were against the wall, down 0-2. I think we should play like that all the time,” said Tatum.
The Celtics built a 12-point lead early in the second quarter, but Miami came storming back when Tyler Herro (22 points off 8-for-18 shooting) refused to miss. The Heat closed it to three when a frustrated Tatum was hit with a technical, and it looked like the Celtics would once again crumble after building an early advantage.
But Boston instead buckled down and played some smothering defense, which led to some easy buckets in transition. Tatum answered with an angry driving dunk off a Brown block, throwing Jae Crowder out of the club in the process to make it 42-37 Boston.
Block ➡️ HAMMER 😤 pic.twitter.com/Z8okXuioZe
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 20, 2020
Tatum then returned the favor to Brown, feeding the swingman off a defensive rebound for a dunk of his own. Brown followed with a driving two off a steal at midcourt, and Smart capped off a 9-0 Boston run with a bucket off another Celtics theft. It took roughly 90 seconds for the Celtics to turn a 51-48 lead into a 60-48 advantage.
Walker canned a three in the final minute of the half to give Boston a 63-50 lead at the break.
The Celtics built their lead to19 but struggled at the end of the third quarter, as they have done the last two series. An 11-1 Miami run cut it to a nine-point game until Walker hit a jumper to slow that momentum, putting the Celtics up 84-73. The lead was back up to 16 when the Celtics rattled off a 7-0 run over a 35 second span, capped off with Tatum turning a Hayward steal into a three-point play off another dunk. Boston won the third, 26-25, and led 89-74 heading into the fourth quarter.
AND ONE ‼️ pic.twitter.com/VU9UNyI5nt
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 20, 2020
The lead ballooned to 20 — Boston’s biggest lead of the series — when Smart aggressively attacked the basket and got fouled as he put in a layup midway through the fourth. His free throw gave the Celtics a 100-80 lead. A few plays later, Brown caused another turnover by Crowder at midcourt and threw it down for another easy two.
A Duncan Robinson three broke up 15 straight misses from downtown for Miami, and cut the Boston lead to 14. But the Celtics again had an answer, with Walker driving to the hoop for an easy layup, giving Boston a 104-88 lead with five minutes to play. It was one of the many timely hoops for Walker during Saturday’s win.
But Miami went on another mini-run, cutting the lead to 10 after Robinson hit a three and a pair of Crowder free throws made it a 104-94 game with 3:27 to play. The Celtics again answered, with Hayward finding Walker for a corner three to give Boston a 107-94 lead.
Robinson cut it to 109-101 with another three with 1:12 to go, and it got a little more interesting when Brown was whistled for an offensive foul for putting an elbow into Robinson’s face on the other end. That led to a flagrant-1 on Brown after a video review, which meant two free throws for Robinson and Miami got the ball. Robinson hit one of his two freebies and Bam Adebayo (who had a game-high 27 points to go with 16 rebounds) made an easy bucket to make it a 109-104 game with 55.9 left.
But Smart hit two free throws on the other end to give the Celtics a 7-point lead with 46.9 to go. He hit six freebies in the closing minute to seal the win.
“We still have a lot of improvement. We could finish games better, I don’t think we finished as well as we would have liked,” Brown said after the game. “But we played some good basketball all the way though, we just have to finish better.”
The Celtics will have a few days to figure that part out, with Game 4 not tipping off until Wednesday night. But the Celtics are back in the series after finally playing hard, looking like a united group for the first time in the Eastern Conference Finals.