Erik Spoelstra had his players fully assume that Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals would be incredibly difficult and that the Miami Heat would have to take the best shot that a desperate group of Boston Celtics could muster.
It was not correct on his part.
It was a romp for the Heat, and a team that had to pull off a desperate rally to make the playoffs is now one win away from the NBA Finals.
On Sunday night, the eighth-seeded Miami Heat defeated the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics 128-102. Gabe Vincent set a career-best with 29 points scored, and Duncan Robinson contributed 22 points to the winning cause. The Marlins have a 3-0 lead in the series, and they will play Game 4 at home on Tuesday night. If they win, they will have swept the series.
“That was a solid, mature, professional approach,” said Spoelstra, who is now on the verge of leading Miami to its sixth trip to the NBA Finals in his capacity as the Heat’s head coach. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s been pent up here, and even though we’re getting closer, we still have to finish this off.”
For Heat, Caleb Martin scored 18 points, Jimmy Butler finished with 16, Bam Adebayo had 13, and Max Strus added ten more points to the tally. The Heat are undefeated in best-of-seven scenarios in which they have won the first three games of the series. In the history of the NBA, every team that has won the first three games of a best-of-seven series has gone on to win the series.
After Miami shot 57%, Adebayo commented that “the rim was as big as the ocean for everybody.”
The second-seeded Celtics were led in scoring by Jayson Tatum with 14 points and Jaylen Brown with 12 points. The Celtics won three times on Miami’s floor en route to winning the East finals last year, but they never had a chance in this matchup and essentially played with no reserves for the fourth quarter.
“I just didn’t have them ready to play,” said Boston coach Joe Mazzulla, who has been the subject of a lot of criticism during this series — and will undoubtedly face more criticism going into Tuesday. “I just didn’t have them ready to play,” added Boston coach Joe Mazzulla. “No matter what it was, whether it was the starting lineup or an adjustment, I have to get them in a better place so that they are ready to perform. I am responsible for that.
Each of Boston’s Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard contributed 12 points to the team’s total.
Brown said, “To their credit, they’re playing well above their means,” and he was right. They are killing it right now, and I have no choice but to respect what they’re doing. Guys that we ought to be able to keep under control, such as Gabe Vincent, Martin, Strus, and Duncan Robinson, are giving it their all despite our efforts to rein them in.
The NBA Finals will begin on June 1, and given the current state of affairs, this may result in the league lasting several days without any games being played. On Monday, the Western Conference finals could conclude; the Denver Nuggets are currently up 3-0 in their series against the Los Angeles Lakers. And with that, Tuesday may be the day the East finals are over.
“It’s the first to four games,” remarked Vincent. “Three is not enough for us,” was their response.
There has never been a season in which both conference finals were won in a sweep. However, in the division finals that immediately preceded the championship series in 1957, Boston defeated Syracuse 3-0, and St. Louis beat Minneapolis 3-0, both of which were swept.
A No. 8 seed in the Heat, a team that struggled to get into the playoffs, a group that was less than three minutes away from being eliminated in the play-in tournament, getting past top-seeded Milwaukee in five games, then fifth-seeded New York in six, and now on the brink of denying the Celtics a second consecutive East title. Of all the 3-0 series leads in the history of the NBA, this one might be the most unexpected.
And the Heat made sure to let Boston know how much fun they were having with this matchup.
In Game 1, when the Celtics were on the run to create a comfortable lead in the second quarter, Al Horford of Boston directed a timeout signal toward the Miami bench. In Game 3, when the Heat was pulling away in the third quarter, Butler mimicked Horford’s actions by directing a timeout signal toward Horford.
Aside from that, the Heat were able to mount a comeback and win Game 1 nonetheless. The Heat didn’t need to mount a comeback in Game 3. Therefore, there was no need. When it comes down to it, the Celtics only tried a few shots toward the basket.
Brown remarked, “I don’t even know where to start,” about the situation. “It’s not even close to what I was expecting. We have disappointed both our fan base and our organization. We let ourselves down. In addition to that, it was a group effort. Of course, we can blame others, but it was embarrassing.
Marcus Smart’s three-point play on the second half’s opening possession brought the score to 61-49 for Boston, which was previously a deficit of 61 points. However, the remainder of the game was completely dominated by Miami, who promptly responded with a run of its own, scoring 28 points in seven consecutive possessions to open up a 33-point lead at 89-56, which got the entire arena moving. The lead was so significant, and there was still so much time left, that the sellout audience of 20,088 was a little depressed by the time it ended.
It’s possible that they were called out by name. Or perhaps they were saving it for hockey on Monday night, when the Florida Panthers, another No. 8 seed on a remarkable playoff run in South Florida, will aim to take a 3-0 lead in their East finals series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Spoelstra stated that tomorrow would be a day to “decompress” but that the team would also “really get our minds right” to “finish this thing off.”
Robert Williams of the Celtics made his first shot, giving him a perfect start to the series in which he made 12 of his first 13 attempts. The second time around, he was unsuccessful. Tatum showed up to the playoff game wearing an all-white suit, which is in keeping with the Heat’s request that fans wear white to the fun.
Robinson of the Heat made five three-point shots, giving him a total of 124 for his career in the postseason with the Heat. This puts him ahead of LeBron James (123) for the most in Miami history… The Heat have a total of 2,000 steals to their name in their postseason history, and Butler’s theft with 7:17 left in the first quarter was the 2,000th one. Prior to this game, Vincent’s previous career high in points was 28, which he scored in a victory over Milwaukee on January 12.