Good afternoon, folks. The Celtics won the third chess match. Let’s talk NBA Bubble.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS – GAME 3 [MIA leads 2-1]
The Boston Celtics found themselves in familiar territory on Saturday night: leading the Miami Heat by double-digits in the Eastern Conference Finals. Only this time, there were no postgame reports of tension inside of a volatile locker room; only reflective thoughts. Boston never let its foot off the gas, leading the entire game and cruising to a 117-106 Game 3 win over Miami, trimming the Heat’s series lead down to 2-1.
Against a Miami Heat zone that gave them serious fits in Games 1 and 2, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens decided to attack the paint relentlessly. Whenever Miami broke out the 2-3 zone defense, they employed lengthy wings up top with Bam Adebayo plopped in the middle while effectively “hiding” inferior defenders in the corner. To combat this, Boston ran more off-ball screens and cutters to muck up the action and force Adebayo into awkward defending positions. It led to a wide-open paint for the Celtics, who dominated the Heat in that area scoring the ball, 60-36. Boston attempted 10 more shots in the first quarter than Miami, making seven more to give them a 31-22 advantage heading into the second period.
The next quarter, however, was the Tyler Herro Show for Miami. The NBA All-Rookie Team member exploded for 16 points on 6-8 shooting (4-5 from beyond the arc) in the second, playing all 12 minutes while canning some courageous shots. His 16 points are the second-most in a playoff quarter by a player under the age of 20 since 1997, per ESPN Stats and Info. The only player ahead of him? Kobe Bryant, who had 17 points in a quarter against the Jazz in March of 1997.
Tyler Herro feeling it from outside with back-to-back threes ? pic.twitter.com/CljnStznAA
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 20, 2020
Herro’s efforts helped Miami crawl back into the game and the lead was down to as few as three points with under three minutes left before the half, but Boston, thanks to the resurgence of a now-healthy Gordon Hayward, ballooned the lead back to double-digits at the intermission. At halftime, the Celtics were up 63-50. Hayward, who was not on a time restriction after sitting out nearly five weeks with an ankle sprain, played 30 minutes, posting six points, five rebounds, and four assists.
To open up the third quarter, Bam Adebayo, who had been relatively quiet up until this point in the game on the offensive end of the floor, announced himself to the Boston defense. 19 of his 27 points came in the second half, 10 of them coming in the third quarter alone. He was attacking the rim just as he was in Game 2, going after every loose ball on the glass and getting to the free-throw line. Unfortunately, his efforts were not matched by his teammates. Jimmy Butler, in particular, had an off night, scoring just 17 points and going MIA (no pun intended) throughout large chunks of the game and especially down the stretch. Despite Adebayo’s production, Miami could never build up enough of a run to slice into Boston’s lead. Going into the fourth quarter, the Celtics were up 89-74.
In typical Heat fashion, they did conjure up a scoring run in the closing minutes that surely gave a few Celtics fans some sweaty palms. A pair of triples from Miami sharpshooter Duncan Robinson followed by an Adebayo layup cut the Boston lead to just five with only 55 seconds remaining. But that was as tight as the contest would get, as Marcus Smart iced the game away with eight consecutive three-throws to give the Celtics a 117-106 victory and a fighting chance in the series. In the face of controversy, Boston conquered and quickly moved past what was nagging them. The importance of avoiding a 3-0 series hole was far greater than any postgame beef.
”There’s some great guys in that locker room,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said after the game. ”A lot of emotion, a lot of passion, but we’re a family and we’re here for each other at the end of the day. We exemplified that when we came out together … we kept our will high and we persevered to win this game.”
Adebayo’s night concluded with 27 points, 16 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks on 10-14 shooting. Oddly enough, he only recorded one assist for the time during the postseason and turned the ball over three times. Most notably in the second half, the one-time Wildcat was making more of a conscious effort to score rather than distribute. Herro registered 22 points on 8-18 shooting overall and a 4-12 clip from downtown to go along with three rebounds and four assists. Enes Kanter found another opportunity in Game 3 after mixed results in Game 2, adding four points and four rebounds on 1-4 shooting during a five-minute stretch in the first half for the Celts.
Four different Celtics players poured in at least 20 points, Jaylen Brown (26), Jayson Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20). Saturday’s game actually marked the first time in NBA history that four players all 24 years or younger dropped at least 20 points during a Conference Finals game (Brown, Tatum, Adebayo, and Herro).
Tonight was the first time in NBA history that four players 24 or younger scored 20+ points in a Conference Finals game. @EliasSports
Jaylen Brown: 26 PTS, 23 years old
Jayson Tatum: 25 PTS, 22 years old
Bam Adebayo: 27 PTS, 23 years old
Tyler Herro: 22 PTS, 20 years old pic.twitter.com/QPFSN5MHB2
— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) September 20, 2020
|Bam Adebayo (MIA)||106-117 L vs. BOS||27||10-14 (0-0)||16||1||3||2||3||+1||37|
|Tyler Herro (MIA)||106-117 L vs. BOS||22||8-18 (4-12)||3||4||1||0||1||0||36|
|Enes Kanter (BOS)||117-106 W @ MIA||4||1-4 (0-0)||4||0||0||0||0||+3||5|
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS – GAME 2 [LAL leads 1-0]
7:30 (TNT):  Nuggets (Murray) @  Lakers (Davis, Rondo)
Will the Denver Nuggets have enough left in the tank to make this a series? That is the Bubble-popping question right now.
Anthony Davis was a monster for the Lakers in Game 1, recording 37 points and 10 rebounds while needing to play just four minutes in the fourth quarter as L.A. manhandled the Denver Nuggets by a final score of 126-114 on Friday. But without any sense of homecourt advantage, the series can be reset later on Sunday with a Denver win. But they’ll need a more consistently involved effort from point guard Jamal Murray. While the former Wildcat still managed 21 points in the last game, 15 of them came in the first half and foul trouble limited him at times.
LeBron James only went for 15 points in the series opener and is seemingly more pissed off about his lack of MVP votes as opposed to anything else. If he enacts that needless vengeance on the Nuggets in Game 2, he could easily elevate his game to another level alongside Davis. If that were to happen, Denver has much more to worry about than Dwight Howard giving Nikola Jokic initial fits (which is its own separate problem).