It was a game that was going to leave the Miami Heat lost, regardless of the outcome, with Jimmy Butler’s night ended at halftime by knee inflammation.
But that’s also where the Heat drew the line, capitalizing on the aggressiveness of center Bam Adebayo to post a heartbreaking 109-103 win Saturday night over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden and a 2-1 lead in the Finals. of the Eastern Conference to the best of seven. .
“It got twisted,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the wild pendulum of a game.
On the rare night the Heat started complete, with point guard Kyle Lowry back from his hamstring strain and returning power forward PJ Tucker from a knee problem, the Heat soon had to find the way to finish in the absence of their leading scorer.
So Adebayo became their leading scorer, closing with 31 points and 10 rebounds, after posting a combined 16 in the first two games of the series, including a key late jumper.
“He did his version of what Jimmy does in terms of doing what is necessary for the game,” Spoelstra said of Adebayo.
With Lowry providing stability in his return and Tucker’s aggressiveness, the Heat capitalized on a variety of complementary contributions at both ends, including a key late 3-pointer from Max Strus, on the way to regaining home-court advantage.
“There’s just adversity on both sides, constantly, and the competition is so intense that it’s creating that adversity,” Spoelstra said, with Heat guard Tyler Herro ending the game with a quad injury after a miserable 4-of-1. 15 night from the field.
Strus added 16 points for the Heat, with Lowry finishing with 11 points and six assists and Tucker with 17 points and seven rebounds.
“We just have guys working, gutting,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s what the playoffs are all about.”
Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 40 points on a night teammate Jayson Tatum shot 3-for-14.
The Heat closed with 19 steals, one short of the NBA postseason record, as part of the Celtics’ 24 turnovers. That fueled a 33-9 advantage in points on turnovers.
“We wanted to show that we are here and that we are going to keep fighting,” Strus said.
The series continues with Game 4 on Monday at 8:30 pm at the TD Garden.
Five degrees of heat from Saturday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat led 39-18 late in the first period, their highest score in any quarter this postseason, stretching that lead to 26 in the second period, before taking a 62-47 lead at halftime.
The Celtics closed within nine in the third, but the Heat’s lead was again 15 before the fourth quarter, 87-72.
And then suddenly, a 20-4 run by the Celtics cut the Heat’s lead to 93-92 with 2:40 left.
But that’s when Strus stepped up with a 3-pointer with 2:16 left to put the Heat up 96-92, followed by Adebayo with a 17-foot jumper with 1:21 left.
More questions ended when Lowry snuck in to steal an inbounds pass from the Celtics and feed Strus for a layup that made it 103-94 with 42.5 seconds remaining, allowing the Heat to hold off a late Brown 3-pointer.
On his crucial 3-pointer, Strus said: “We just needed one basket. . . . In the timeout, Kyle said, ‘Let’s do a pindown for Max.’
2. Always something: The Heat’s rare night of a full start took a decisive turn when Butler couldn’t make it to the start of the second half because of recurring knee inflammation.
That had Víctor Oladipo, who did not play in the first half, with the starters in the opening of the third period, contributing several key defensive sequences.
Butler’s night ended with eight points, three rebounds and two assists in 7:30 p.m.
“He didn’t have his normal explosive blast,” Spoelstra said of his impression of Butler in the first half, before the training staff made the decision at halftime to turn him off.
Butler previously missed the Heat’s Game 5 final win over the Atlanta Hawks in the first round due to inflammation in his right knee.
3. Received message: At morning shootaround, Spoelstra said of Adebayo, “We want him to be more involved.”
Adebayo went 5-for-6 from the field, scoring his 10th point at 5:37 into the game.
Adebayo’s 12th point moved him past Tim Hardaway for 10th on the Heat’s all-time playoff list and he reached 16 points at halftime. He had 23 points before the fourth.
“He really is the heart and soul of the group,” Spoelstra said. “Tonight we needed the scoreboard.”
The 31 points were one of the highest of his postseason career, when he scored 32 in Game 6 of the 2020 Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics.
“His versatility just opens everything up for everyone,” Tucker said. “It was good to see him start early.”
Adebayo said Thursday’s 25-point home loss provided all the motivation needed.
“In the previous game they beat us like we stole something,” Adebayo said. “That should wake anyone up.”
Adebayo’s 22 shots were a career high for any game.
“He put his head down,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said, “we didn’t match him.”
4. Lower back: Lowry returned after missing eight of the previous 10 games with a left hamstring strain, reestablishing his lead with the first drive.
Aware of the ailment, he entered the locker room tunnel during his time away from the game.
“It’s hard trying to find a rhythm, getting a chance to be with my guys is always fun,” said Lowry, who played 29 minutes. “I feel good. I’m out playing.”
Lowry, 36, had previously attempted to come back from a hamstring injury in the second round against the Philadelphia 76ers after a four-game absence, only to miss four more games.
Spoelstra emphasized that the setback against the 76ers was not a setback in terms of Lowry’s rehabilitation.
“He didn’t get hurt again,” Spoelstra said. “I think that was important, so she was still able to heal. If he had injured him again, I think he would have been out a lot longer. It’s just that he still felt it, so we erred on the side of caution and took more time.”
With Lowry back but on a minute clock, Gabe Vincent, who had started in his place, was the first off the Heat bench, splitting the 24 minutes of the first half evenly with Lowry.
5. Tucker too: Also returning was Tucker, who hurt his left knee in Thursday night’s Game 2 loss to the extent that there were initial thoughts of requiring an MRI.
Tucker left Thursday night’s loss at FTX Arena after first injuring his knee in the first half and aggravating it in the third quarter.
He then had eight points and four rebounds in the first half on Saturday night.
“I told the guys tonight I didn’t know what I had,” Tucker said, “but I was going to give them everything I had.”
Spoelstra paused when asked what it would take to keep the 37-year-old Tucker out.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think all of us, you’re like on eggshells with him. You can’t ask him how he is. I can’t ask a coach, because if he sees me talking to a coach, he barks at me and yells at me if I’m talking to coaches. I can talk to the coaches, that’s part of my job.
“But he’s a throwback by every definition of that.”