Then Bam Adebayo made sure it was enough – just barely – to give Miami a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Heat center scored 31 points with 10 rebounds, filling a void left by injured All-Star Jimmy Butler and leading Miami to a 109-103 victory Saturday night. Adebayo also had six assists and four of the Heat’s franchise postseason record 19 steals.
“He did his version of what Jimmy does: ‘Do what’s necessary for the game,’” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Tonight we needed the scoring and we needed that offensive punch early on.
“Then, when Jimmy was out in the second half, he just stabilized us,” Spoelstra added. “It got a little gnarly out there and when it did, we were able to get the ball to Bam and just get something coherent.”
The Celtics never led, but they cut a 46-20 deficit to one point, 93-92, with 2:40 to play on a 3-pointer from Jaylen Brown, who finished with 40 points. Max Strus answered with a 3 and then Adebayo bounced off defender Al Horford and made a basket at the shot clock buzzer to give Miami a six-point cushion.
The Celtics never came any closer.
Game 4 is Monday night in Boston.
“In the previous game, as everybody noticed, they beat us like we stole something,” Adebayo said. “That should wake everybody up. Getting beat at home like that, that says it all.”
In a bruising game that saw Butler and Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart leave with injuries — though both Celtics returned — Kyle Lowry came back from a four-game absence and scored 11 with six assists for the Heat. P.J. Tucker — like Lowry, a game-time decision — scored 17 for Miami.
Horford scored 20 points with 14 rebounds, and Smart scored 16. Tatum had 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting; he also had six turnovers, and Brown committed seven of Boston’s 2022 playoff-high 24 turnovers.
“Six turnovers, and no field goals in the second half – that is unacceptable,” Tatum said. “Honestly, I’ve got to play better. I feel like I left the guys hanging tonight. That’s on me.”
After losing Game 2 at home by 25 points, the Heat led 62-37 with under three minutes left in the second quarter. Then Boston scored the last 10 points of the half to claw its way back into the game.
Things got worse for Miami when it announced at halftime that Butler, who scored 41 in the series opener, would not return with right knee inflammation.
Miami still led by 15, 87-72, after three, and made it a 17-point game on Adebayo’s basket to start the fourth. But the Celtics ran off the next nine points to get within single digits for the first time since the first three minutes of the game. Trailing 93-80, the Celtics scored 12 straight points – 10 by Brown – to make it a one-point game with 2:40 left.
Miami scored the next seven points.
“We didn’t think that it was all of a sudden going to be an easy series and they were going to roll over,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said. “We bounced back from Game 1 to Game 2, and they were going to do the same that and we had to match that and came out flat for whatever reason.”
IN AND OUT
Boston opened the second with a basket to make it a 13-point game, but the building went silent when Smart, the Defensive Player of the Year, went down in a collision with Lowry while going for a loose ball and needed to be helped to the locker room.
Smart returned just five minutes later, drawing a huge cheer when the scoreboard showed him walking down the tunnel back toward the court. He checked back in with seven minutes left in the third and hit a 3-pointer that made it a 10-point game, 72-62, and forced the Heat to call timeout.
The situation was repeated when Tatum went down in obvious pain with five minutes left in the fourth. He went straight to the locker room, clutching his right side, but also returned to the cheers of the crowd.
“My neck got caught in a weird position,” Tatum said. “Obviously, I went down and felt some pain and discomfort in my neck and down my arm. I went to the back, got it checked on, and started to gain some feeling back and got it checked by the doctors and ran some tests and decided to give it a go.”
Lowry missed eight of the Heat’s previous 10 games with a right hamstring strain, last playing in Game 4 of Miami’s second-round series with Philadelphia. Tucker had a sore left knee but was also in the starting lineup.
“I do not have any updates on anybody,” Spoelstra said. “We’re just going to go back to our cave and just regroup and maybe I’ll have some information for you tomorrow.”
The Celtics played without center Robert Williams III, who missed three games in the second round against Milwaukee with soreness and a bone bruise in his surgically repaired left knee. Daniel Theis started in his place. Derrick White returned after missing Game 2 to be at the birth of his first child.
The Heat forced 24 turnovers in all to lead to 33 Miami points. The Heat also had nine turnovers that led to nine Celtics points. … Miami’s bench outscored Boston’s 26-16. … The Heat shot 64% in the first quarter, but finished at 46.7%. … Penn State coach and former Celtics assistant Micah Shrewsberry and Providence College coach Ed Cooley were both in attendance.