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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Miami Steals Game Three in Boston to Reclaim Homecourt Advantage

It is sometimes said that a team stole a game, but rarely has that been as literally true as it was when Miami beat Boston 109-103 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat set a franchise playoff single game record with 19 steals, and they were credited with 33 points scored off of 24 Boston turnovers. Whether you praise Miami for forcing those miscues or blame Boston for being careless with the ball, the simple fact is that the Heat generated over 30% of their offense as a result of Boston giving up the ball without even attempting a shot. Three Heat players had four steals each: Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, and Victor Oladipo. P.J. Tucker added three steals, and Jimmy Butler had two steals in just 19 minutes before a recurring knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the game. On the other side, Jaylen Brown led Boston with seven turnovers, and Jayson Tatum had six turnovers. 

Adebayo not only tied for game-high honors in steals, but he also led the Heat in scoring (31 points), rebounds (10), and assists (six) while shooting 15-22 from the field in a team-high 41:30 of playing time. P.J. Tucker (17 points) and Max Strus (16 points) were Miami's next two scorers. Oladipo scored just five points on 1-4 field goal shooting), but he played excellent defense, particularly against Brown.

The Celtics outrebounded the Heat 44-34, and they outshot the Heat from the field (.486 to .467), but those advantages were not quite enough to compensate for the Celtics' sloppy ballhandling. Brown scored a playoff career-high 40 points on 14-20 field goal shooting, and he ranked second on the team with nine rebounds. Al Horford added 20 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Marcus Smart had 16 points and a game-high seven assists before fouling out with less than 40 seconds remaining in the game. Tatum struggled not only with turnovers but also with poor shooting as he scored just 10 points on 3-14 field goal shooting. It is difficult to win an NBA playoff game when your best player has twice as many turnovers as field goals made. To his credit, Tatum accepted full responsibility for his poor performance, declaring after the game, "Six turnovers and no field goals in the second half--that is unacceptable. Honestly, I've got to play better. I feel like I left the guys hanging tonight. That's on me."

If anyone still believes that there is momentum in a playoff series that carries over from game to game, the Heat shot holes in that notion by outscoring the Celtics 39-18 in the first quarter after being blown out by the Celtics in game two. The Heat annihilated the Celtics in the paint during the first 12 minutes, scoring 20 paint points on 10-15 field goal shooting while holding the Celtics to two paint points on 1-9 field goal shooting.

Early in the second quarter, the Heat extended their lead to 46-20 before the Celtics rallied to slash the margin to 62-47 by halftime. The third quarter was a 25-25 draw, but the wheels fell off for the Heat for most of the fourth quarter; the Celtics outscored the Heat 20-6 in the first 9:20 to pull within 93-92, but Max Strus drilled a three pointer right before the shot clock expired, and the Heat did not look back the rest of the way.

This series has been very disjointed in terms of levels of play and in terms of players missing action due to health/injury issues. For the Celtics, Al Horford and Marcus Smart were out, but now they are back. Robert Williams III has been in and out of the lineup. For the Heat, Kyle Lowry missed the first two games of this series (and the last four playoff games overall) before having a solid performance (11 points, six assists) in game three. Jimmy Butler has been battling recurring knee soreness throughout the playoffs, and the ailment limited him to eight points on 3-8 field goal shooting in game three. Tyler Herro spent the closing moments of game three on the sidelines with a big wrap on his thigh. 

Side note: I hope that all of the injured players become fully healthy as quickly as possible, but the spectacle of players being carried off of the court or helped off of the court as if they are mortally wounded only to run back onto the court minutes later is more than a bit odd. I prefer the Chris Spielman mantra that if he ever had to be helped off of the playing field then he would retire, and I could do without the excess drama. This kind of drama is one reason that people sometimes question how today's players would fare in previous eras during which more physical contact was not only allowed but encouraged. As I once noted, if Anthony Davis lived by Spielman's code then "he either would have retired many years ago, or he would have reacted differently to the various non-career threatening injuries that he has experienced."

It is difficult to anticipate what will happen in game four when it is not clear which players will play, and to what extent injuries will hinder the afflicted players if they do play. At full strength, I would still take Boston over Miami, but it does not seem that this series will be decided with either team at full strength.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:46 AM



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