Heat stagger Celtics with 128-102 thrashing, now one victory NBA Finals
MIAMI — The improbable, seemingly impossible, is now one victory away from reality.
The team that finished in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed is now one victory from the NBA Finals.
All while doing it in emphatic fashion.
Sunday night, it was a tour de force, with the Miami Heat thrashing the Boston Celtics 128-102 at the Kaseya Center.
And, so, make it a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, with no NBA team ever having overcome such a playoff deficit.
The difference between this and the first two victories in the series at TD Garden was that the Heat humbled and humiliated the Celtics’ leading men by committee.
From Jimmy Butler, there were 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists, a bid for a triple-double foiled only by the luxury of being able to sit out the fourth quarter.
From Bam Adevayo, there were just 13 points and three rebounds, but with the Heat outscoring the Celtics by 30 in the 25:31 he was on the court.
Otherwise, on a night Celtics forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown scored 14 and 12 points, respectively, it was anyone and everyone setting the tone for the Heat.
Gabe Vincent led the Heat with 29 points, with Duncan Robinson adding 22 and Caleb Martin 18.
“The game was as big as an ocean for everybody,” Adebayo said, with the Heat shooting .568 from the field, including 19 of 35 on 3-pointers.
Five Degrees of Heat from Sunday’s game:.
1. Thorough thrashing: The Heat led 30-22 after the opening period and 61-46 at halftime, after pushing their lead to 22 in the second period.
The Celtics then moved within 61-49 early in the third quarter, before the Heat slammed the door, pushing back to a 74-51 lead.
The Heat’s lead reached 33 later in the third period, with the Heat taking a 93-63 advantage into the fourth.
That margin left Heat coach Erik Spoelstra comfortable enough to rest both Butler and Adebayo at the start of the fourth, by which time chants of “We Want Haslem!” broke out, seeking an appearance by 42-year old Heat captain Udonis Haslem, the lone available Heat player not to see action.
2. What’s next: Game 4 is Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. at Kaseya Center, with a Game 5, if necessary, at 8:30 p.m. at TD Garden.
The winner of this series faces the winner of the Western Conference finals between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers, a series Denver leads 3-0 heading into that Game 4 on Monday night in Los Angeles.
No matter when the conference finals end, the best-of-seven NBA Finals will not open until June 1. The Nuggets would have homecourt advantage over the Heat in such a series.
3. Vincent again: An impending free agent, Vincent continues to thrive in the national spotlight of this series, as he did in the previous rounds against the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks.
With Vincent so efficient offensively, it allowed Butler and Adebayo the freedom to step back Sunday from their scoring.
Vincent closed 11 of 14 from the field, including 6 of 9 on 3-pointers.
Beyond his over-the-top success with his 3-point shooting, Vincent continues to set a defensive tone, even when faced with initial challenges such as Sunday’s that had him matched against the Celtics’ Brown.
4. Lineup twist: The big lineup the Celtics used to win the final games against the Philadelphia 76ers and then opened with the first two games of this series, was scrapped, with Boston opening with guard Derrick White in place of center Robert Williams, the same alignment Boston opened with at the start of the second half of Game 2.
Spoelstra nonetheless stayed with his big lineup of Adebayo, Butler, Kevin Love, Max Strus and Vincent.
“You have to be able to manage through a lot of different things,” Spoelstra said, “and you hope that they have to manage through some things with us, as well.”
5. Love lost: Love, however, went only the first 4:47, before retreating to the locker room with an ankle issue.
He eventually made it back to the bench, trying to loosen up under the supervision of trainer Wes Brown.
That came with the Heat still lacking guards Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo with surgical injuries sustained earlier this postseason.
Oladipo, recovering from knee surgery, is in a leg brace, walking with the air of a crutch, out likely well into next season.
Herro continues with his right hand in a brace, but on a timetable that could have him back before the end of the postseason.