6 takeaways as the Celtics lose an ugly, injury-plagued Game 3 against the Heat

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The Celtics gave up the ball constantly and couldn’t capitalize.

Celtics Heat Game 4

Bam Adebayo is surrounded by Jaylen Brown and Al Horford under the basket on Saturday. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Celtics have pulled off some gritty, hard-fought wins since the postseason began, but nothing like what the Heat pulled off in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday.

The Heat were without Jimmy Butler in the second half after Butler sat out with knee inflammation (after the game, Chris Haynes reported that Butler is fine, which seems at least somewhat unlikely given that a maniacally competitive player sat out 24 of the season’s biggest minutes). The umpires gave the Celtics a 30-14 lead in free throw attempts, which was actually even bigger before the Celtics fouled down the stretch. The Heat didn’t even shoot particularly well: 11-for-33 from deep after a hot start.

And somehow, the Heat found a way to hang on and win 109-103. The Celtics won or tied the final three quarters after a disastrous early stretch during which the Heat jumped as high as 26 points, but Miami’s lead slowly fizzled out and the Celtics never found the tap to accelerate it. Jaylen Brown’s 3-pointer late in the quarter cut the Heat’s lead to one, but the Heat had one final answer: Max Strus buried a 3-pointer with two minutes remaining, Adebayo scored and Kyle Lowry capped off a wildly successful return with a clutch steal. .

Given that the Heat won the game almost entirely due to live turnovers, it’s tempting to say the Celtics blew a winnable game, but that underplays how the Heat responded after Thursday’s blowout. Both teams are clearly capable of throwing hay, and both are clearly capable of absorbing and hitting them back.

During this postseason run, the Celtics have been really good at bouncing back after disappointing losses, which is an essential quality because they’ve lost some really disappointing losses. On Saturday, they were outworked and scrambled by a Heat team and lost despite enjoying a host of leads.

Now they need to recover again.

More takeaway

2. Saturday’s match was a war of attrition, so here’s the post-match podium rundown of injuries: Robert Williams is “truly” day-to-day according to Ime Udoka and could be back as soon as Monday. Marcus Smart sprained his ankle in a terrifying scene captured by cameras on the pitch, but Udoka thinks he’ll be fine in the future. The same goes for Jayson Tatum, who suffered a flat tire.

“My neck got caught in a weird position,” Tatum said. “Obviously I went down and had some pain and discomfort in my neck and arm and then I went to the back and they checked it out and started to get some feeling back and the doctors checked it out and did some tests and decided give it a try.”

Erik Spoelstra had no health updates for anyone on his team. Both Lowry and PJ Tucker have been recovering from injuries and it’s unclear what’s going on with Butler.

3. Jaylen Brown scored 40 points, but struggled tremendously against Miami’s defensive pressure and turned the ball over seven times. He and Tatum (six) combined for 13 of the Celtics’ 21 turnovers. In a game they won by six, the Heat outscored the Celtics 33-9 in points from turnovers.

“It’s happened to us a couple of times in this playoff run,” Horford said bluntly. “It’s something we kept fighting for, and it seemed like every time we got into a position, we’d lose the ball.”

Again, the Heat had a lot to do with that, but if the Celtics hope to move forward, it’s imperative that they stop turning the ball over. The fact that they already solved this problem once in Game 2 makes Saturday’s performance especially strange.

“Today I did my job taking care of the basketball,” Brown said. “But just be stronger, drive them forward and continue to be aggressive and continue to get to the basket and continue to do what I do, but be stronger when I get in there. They let a lot of things slide tonight, especially when I feel like I drive and get to the basket, I feel like I have two hands on me the whole time. I never get those manual checkup calls.

“But I don’t make excuses. We improve. I did my job taking care of the ball today. I have to do better.

Given the free throw disparity, Brown’s comments about umpires could fall on deaf ears.

4. Tatum was 3-for-14 and 1-for-7 from deep on all six of his turnovers. When he returned to the game in the fourth after suffering his sting, a Celtics run that finally had some teeth fell apart immediately.

“I feel like I left the guys hanging tonight,” Tatum said. “That’s up to me. I recognize that. That was a difficult one.”

When asked about Tatum’s regular nights off, Udoka said his problems were simply “understanding how [the Heat] they are going to defend you”, then went on to talk about problems of the whole team.

“Everyone [the Heat] We talk about improving their physique, being embarrassed at home, and that’s what we’re talking about, not being caught off guard or pleased or content to get a win instead, and understanding how they’re going to protect the guys, be physical , and we didn’t match that from the start,” Udoka said. “It seemed like we were wilting from their pressure and we started complaining to the referees and they took us out of the game early on.”

If you’re a Celtics fan looking for a little hope on a brutal Saturday, you could do worse than the fact that Tatum is highly unlikely to be this bad again on Monday.

5. After scoring just 16 points in Games 1 and 2 combined, Bam Adebayo had a big night: 31 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Butler was excellent in Game 1, but the Heat bring much more than Jimmy Butler to the table.

A reporter told Udoka that having Robert Williams, who missed Saturday’s game with knee pain, could have made a big difference against Adebayo.

“Adebayo put his shoulder on whoever was protecting him, on his chest, so Rob can’t save the day at that point,” Udoka said. “Guys have to take charge of that matchup and defend like we’re capable of.”

6. Once again, the Celtics are playing for their season. The Celtics and Heat kick off Game 4 Monday at 8:30 pm on ABC.

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