A lot of noise was made about how the Boston Celtics have been better on the road heading into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but they sure didn’t show much fight in them.
The Miami Heat showed a much greater sense of urgency from the opening tip and got important contributions from everyone that took to the floor. Kevin Love, who was scoreless in Game 2, scored the Heat’s first five points before injuring his ankle and leaving the game early in the first quarter.
After going on a 9-3 run at the end of the first quarter to take a 30-23 lead, the Heat continued to pour it on in the following period, pushing their lead to as much as 22 points before ending the first half with a 61-46 lead. It was the Celtics’ lowest-scoring first half in the 2023 postseason so far.
Their first half success was buoyed by an unselfish team effort, which saw shot attempts spread out evenly. Their undrafted players in Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus played a big part in their success as they combined for 36 points in the first half to relieve pressure off of Jimmy Butler. The Heat bench also soundly outplayed the Celtics in that first half by outscoring them 25-10.
The strong play from his supporting cast allowed Butler to focus on controlling the flow of the game with his playmaking and defense in the first half. Bam Adebayo also got to relax a little bit in the first half, only scoring seven points but also having one of the game’s best highlights.
The bigger story of the first half, though, was how the Celtics seemed to break down mentally early on. They allowed some bad calls to get to their head and spent a little too much time complaining to the referees instead of focusing on stopping the Heat. Marcus Smart was called for a technical in the first half and almost got ejected in the third quarter for a hostile act.
The Heat pushed the advantage to as much as 33 points in the third quarter as Vincent and Martin continued with their hot shooting.
Miami outscored Boston 32-17 in the third quarter to take a commanding 93-63 lead into the final stanza. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum started the fourth quarter on the bench and never came back. Butler and Adebayo also sat the entire fourth quarter for the Heat.
The Heat’s role players soundly outplayed the Celtics’ starters. Their undrafted players combined for 79 points by the end of the game as they shot 28 of 45 combined. Six Heat players scored in double digits.
Brown started decently for the Celtics as he scored eight points in the first quarter, but was only able to get two more points before halftime. His shooting woes came back in the second half, though, as he finished with 12 points while shooting 6 of 17 overall.
Tatum put in a good effort on the boards in the first half to finish with nine points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals, but struggled from the field shooting 4 of 11 before finishing the game shooting 6 of 18 with 14 points.
The Celtics shot 11 of 42 from three and in the second half looked to have completely settled for trying to make those instead of attacking the rim to get back into the game. They missed 12 threes in a row at one point, which allowed the Heat to continuously pad their lead.
Game 3 was another exhibit of how much the Heat trust each other. When Butler and Adebayo only need to take 18 total field goal attempts in a victory, you know it was a complete team effort. Vincent led all scorers with a career-high 29 points thanks to making 11 of 14 field goal attempts and 6 of 9 triples.
Now, holding a 3-0 lead, the Heat have a chance to finish the series in front of their own fans. They’ve completely broken down the Celtics mentally and look destined to make their second NBA Finals in the last four seasons.