Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did what he could when it came to a warning.
“This game is going to be different,” he told his players in the locker room prior to Saturday night’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, “is going to feel different than the first two.”
ESPN captured his words. The problem is his players seemingly didn’t fully get the message.
So the lead in the best-of-seven series is now down to 2-1, after a 117-106 loss to the Boston Celtics.
As with the first two games of the series, when the Heat trailed by 14 points in Game 1 and then 17 in Game 2, there again was a sizeable deficit, this time 19 in the third period.
This time, no comeback — with the Celtics aware that no NBA team has overcome an 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
Instead, three days for this to marinate for the Heat, with Game 4 not until Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.
On the neutral court of Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex, in a game played in the absence of fans due to the new coronavirus pandemic, the Celtics provided their own motivation, sparked by the return of forward Gordon Hayward from an ankle sprain that had him out more than a month.
Jaylen Brown sparked the Celtics with 26 points, supported by a 25-point, 14-rebound double-double by Jayson Tatum, 21 points from Kemba Walker and 20 from Marcus Smart.
The Heat got a 27-point, 16-rebound double-double from Bam Adebayo, as well 22 points from Tyler Herro, 17 from Jimmy Butler, 13 from Duncan Robinson and 11 from Goran Dragic.
Five degrees of Heat from Saturday night’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat had a last-gasp chance when Brown was called for a flagrant foul for an elbow to Robinson’s face with 63 seconds left and the Celtics up 109-101.
Robinson then went to the line for the first time in the conference finals, making only the second of the foul shots, to draw the Heat within 109-102. An Adebayo layup followed on the possession to get the Heat within 109-104.
A pair of Smart foul shots then put the Celtics up 111-104 with 46.9 seconds to play, with an air-ball 3-pointer by Herro effectively ending it.
2. Power play: After the Heat outscored the Celtics 48-26 in the paint in Game 1, Boston came back with a 46-44 advantage in Game 2.
Then came Game 3, with Celtics dominant in the paint, including 50-22 advantage in that category going into the fourth quarter.
“It looks like a misprint, it does not feel like a misprint,” Spoelstra said in his televised interview before the start of the fourth quarter. “They’re playing at a different level of force. It’s pretty clear.”
That effort had the Celtics up 89-74 going into the fourth.
3. Hayward back: Hayward was back in the Celtics’ mix for the first time since the start of the playoffs, after a 4 1/2-week layoff due to a severe ankle sprain.
He closed with six points on 2-of-7 shooting, with five rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocked shots in 31 minutes, with Celtics coach Brad Stevens saying the team is monitoring Hayward’s minutes.
Hayward entered for the first time midway through the opening period.
“He looks good,” Stevens said during his televised interview at the end of the first quarter.
Asked what Hayward provides, Stevens said pregame, “He’s a great passer. He can score the ball. He can switch all the different positions. He gives us a lot of defensive flexibility there. He just gives us a lot. And I think that he’s always been a guy that provides a great sense of stability.”
ESPN reported that Hayward plans to remain in the bubble and not return home for the impending birth of his son.
4. Tyler time: Herro kept the Heat afloat in the second period, scoring 16 of the Heat’s 28 points in the quarter on 6-of-8 shooting, including 4 of 5 on 3-pointers.
No other Heat player scored more than four in the second, with the Celtics able to take a 63-50 lead into the intermission.
Herro’s offense was needed, with Spoelstra playing Andre Iguodala and Derrick Jones Jr. as his other reserve wings in the first half, sacrificing the offense of Kendrick Nunn, who did not enter until midway through the third quarter.
5. Long layoff: The three-day gap in the series allows the Western Conference finals, which won’t hit Game 2 until Sunday, to catch up. It also avoids a conflict for ESPN, which is carrying the East finals and also carries Monday Night Football.
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