Erik Spoelstra’s Heat team joined the Denver Nuggets in earning a 3-0 Conference Finals series lead after blasting the Celtics into submission on their Miami return, having snatched the initiative in Boston. Point guard Gabe Vincent led the way with a new career-high 29 points, as their role players stepped up in style as they’re now one game away from another NBA Finals trip.
Miami stay firing on all cylinders as Mazzulla takes the blame
- This lopsided 128-102 result marks the first time Miami have led 3-0 in a Conference Finals series, after nine previous appearances at this stage
- Fresh off a new career-high 29-point game, Gabe Vincent tells TNT crew that complacency won’t be an issue in Tuesday’s closeout game: “We’ve still got work to do, it’ll be a battle, they’re not going to lay down.”
- By contrast, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla takes the blame for blowout loss: “It’s on me, I didn’t have them ready to play, execute the proper gameplan, the right mentality,” as Jaylen Brown calls it embarrassing
Joe Mazzulla went small with his starting line-up, picking Derrick White to start over Rob Williams III as Boston found themselves in must-win territory on the road in Miami after two painful defeats began the Conference Finals series with a whimper.
Game 2 would’ve been a painful pill to swallow as they led by as many as 12 with 10:35 remaining, before Grant Williams poked the bear and found out first-hand that Jimmy Butler needs no motivation to energise his efforts in clutch time.
Hall of Fame shooting guard Reggie Miller repeatedly insisted that, while the optics didn’t flatter him, Williams was one of few Celtics players displaying energy, passion and a will to win as they looked to tie the series. Maybe others would follow suit?
Well, Miami ultimately demoralised them. Bam Adebayo again showed his playmaking chops with some clever passes, sharp decision-making and energised the 20,000-strong Kaseya Center crowd with an aggressive display on both ends.
Whether it was an unexpected spin move slam dunk which left Jaylen Brown in his wake on the side of the court, clever assists for Duncan Robinson or denying longtime friend Jayson Tatum defensively, the 25-year-old was everywhere.
“The rim was as big as the ocean for everyone, making the right pass and everybody playing together. We’ve been hearing it [criticism], people have always counted us out: haven’t got enough talent, undrafted guys… got the motivation to win a chip and look forward now.” – Bam’s post-game interview
Slick ball movement and cohesion was the name of the game for Miami, as their role players stepped up to the plate once more and lessened the workload on their stars.
Bam only played 26 minutes, such was their ever-growing lead. Jimmy Butler enjoyed another balanced game and could relax long before crunch time after putting up 16 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals in five more.
After scoring 24 points in the previous two games of this series, Gabe Vincent drilled six threes – and finished with 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting – as the 26-year-old produced perhaps the best performance of his three-year NBA career to date.
He made six threes in a game once last month, away against Detroit during the final week of the regular season, and like many other role players has a tendency to heat up from deep-range. Max Strus and others are capable too, but this was about him.
It didn’t matter where the ball found him either: whether he was in the corner, hitting stepbacks or running pullup jumpshots, the impact was emphatic.
Two three-pointers on consecutive possessions early in the third quarter said plenty, while doing his bit defensively too: blocking Williams III’s layup attempt before showing athleticism in stealing a sloppy Malcolm Brogdon pass three minutes later.
“We needed to come out and kill, it was just as important to us as it was them. Jimmy’s one of the most unselfish I’ve played with, makes the game easy for me,” Vincent on Miami’s mindset before Game 3 and Butler as a teammate.
Caleb Martin posted 18 points, four assists and three rebounds in 35 minutes off the bench to continue an excellent series on a personal note, while sharpshooter Duncan Robinson had 22 points and four assists too in 12 less minutes himself.
Injuries have played a role, but this is a far cry from the defensive liability they couldn’t afford to hide in games and was openly on the trade block, earlier this term.
As for the Celtics…
Having been guilty of complaining to the officials after some no-calls early in the contest, there was no attacking urgency from Boston. Instead, many settled for long-distance shots as their three-point woes continued and Miami did as they pleased.
Marcus Smart was needlessly frustrated with some decisions which merely amplified his poor overall game, while neither Jayson Tatum nor Brown could inspire them to keep the scoreline close (combined 1-of-14 from 3PT range, six turnovers).
Miami went on runs without much resistance and Boston’s best players came from the bench in limited minutes: the aforementioned Williams III (8 pts, 8 rebs) and Payton Pritchard (12 pts, five ast) as the C’s postseason now hangs by a thread.
Brogdon picked precisely the wrong game to go scoreless on six shot attempts, the first time that’s happened for this season’s Sixth Man of the Year award-winner since New Year’s Eve in 2019 while playing for the Pacers (vs. 76ers).
It typified a nightmare evening for the Celtics, now hoping to avoid a damning series sweep on Tuesday. There was plenty said about Mazzulla, his coaching adjustments and if he’s out of his depth but the 34-year-old can’t be solely responsible here.
Picture source: Getty Images, quotes via TNT broadcast