The Miami Heat’s habit of falling into big second-half holes finally caught up to them in a 117-106 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday.
After overcoming a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit in Game 1 and a 15-point third-quarter deficit in Game 2, the Heat fell down by as many as 20 in Game 3 and never got back on track.
It’s a pattern Heat players and coaches have talked openly about fixing over the past few days, but it was the Celtics who set the tone early Saturday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
“We’ve got to start the game how we start the fourth,” Heat All-Star big man Bam Adebayo said. “I feel like we’re not the type of team where we can go through the motions and try and figure out everything in the first half, and then in the third or fourth, we just try to turn it on. It’s not like that. We are not that type of team.”
The Celtics started with a 31-22 first quarter and were able to build upon it throughout the game. The Heat did not have an answer for the Celtics’ aggression, with Boston doing a much better job defensively on Heat guard Goran Dragic, holding the sharpshooter to 2-for-10 from the field.
“I think it gets old, playing from behind consistently,” Heat All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler said. “Especially against a great team like Boston and what they bring to the table.”
The Heat will have to wait until Game 4 on Wednesday to fix the issue that has hampered them throughout the series. Despite holding a 2-1 series lead, Miami players expressed frustration after they lost for just the second time in the postseason bubble.
“We’ve got to play with detail,” Adebayo said. “I feel like we’ve got to work on our offense a little bit. They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping it up and having fun. I feel like that was the big difference in the game. They jumped out on us, and I guess they got tired of us being down 13 and coming back and winning. We’ve just got to do a better job of not letting ourselves get in a big deficit.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gave the Celtics credit for keeping their feet on the gas pedal after losing focus in the first two games of the series.
“Look, this is the playoffs,” Spoelstra said. “So you deal with whatever is in front of you. They came out, Boston did, with great force in this game, and you do have to credit them for that. They sustained it for the better majority of the game. We were on our heels most of the game.”
The Heat remain confident in themselves, but it’s a trend they know they must fix if they are to continue their dream run in the bubble. Aside from the fact that they fell into yet another early hole, what frustrated Butler is that he knows his team can play harder. He acknowledged after Game 2 that the Celtics have more talent on paper than the Heat, and he knows that to get to the NBA Finals, the Heat must make up for that talent disparity in other areas.
“We didn’t play hard enough,” Butler said. “I think we didn’t do anything that we said that we were going to do. We knew how they were going to attack us. We weren’t helping each other. We weren’t making an extra pass a lot of the times. We have to play basketball the way we have been playing the games that we have been winning. We understand that. There’s nothing that Coach can say. There’s nothing that OG [Udonis Haslem] can say. We get it. We have to be the ones to fix that.”