By Arnie Leshin
Catch them if you can, and the Miami Heat have done it twice to win the first two games over the reeling Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conferences finals of the restarted shortened National Basketball Association season playoffs.
Down by 14 in game one, Miami found a way. Down by 17 in game two Thursday night, the unheralded 5th-seeded Heat again railed to overtake the 3rd-seeded Celtics, 106-101, on the floor of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., with game three to be played Saturday, followed by a break in between games 3 and 4, and game 4 won’t be until Wednesday.
So Boston, which eliminated the defending champion Toronto Raptors in seven tough games of the best-of-7, now has to find an answer in short time after a loud, animated conversation in the locker room postgame. As for Miami, it’s feeling the tide on its side, and with confidence as it is two games away from advancing to the NBA finals against the Western Conference survivor of the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers-3rd-seeded Denver Nuggets best-of-7, that plays game one tonight.
In seven games during both the regular and shortened season between the Lakers and Nuggets, Denver won four, with all but one going under 100 points between the teams.
The first two contests have highlighted the defense of the Heat’s Bam Adebayo, who made that magical block in the final seconds of the opener on a Jason Tatum drive to the basket with his team three points down. This time, he turned in 21 points, brought down a game-high 10 rebounds, and handed out four assists, but the leading scorer with a game-high 25 points was Goran Dragic,,as well as as a game-high five assists.
There were six Miami players in doubles, and all of them played from 32 to 36 minutes. The others being Duncan Robinson with 18 points, Jae Crowder with 14, Jimmy Butler with a dozen, and Tyler Herro with 11.
“We got grit,” said Adebayo, “that’s about all I can tell you. We got grit, man.”
Before this, the Miami team had been 0-21 in playoff games when trailing by at least 13 at halftime. Now it is 1-21 in a drive to gain its first NBA final since 2014. The Heat had scored only 18 points in the game one opening period, and did so again in game two as Boston soared to a 60-47 lead. And then it all changed. Miami outscored Boston, 37-17, in the third quarter as Adebayo outshot and nearly outscored the Celts by himself. He was on the way to 7-of-8 shooting from the floor, turned in 15 points in the quarter, and Miami led 84-77.
In the fourth quarter, Boston showed some fight. It went on a 15-2 run, silencing the Heat for nearly seven minutes and going up 94-89 on a 3-pointer from Kemba Walker with 4:25left. That only set the stage for another Miami surge, and it finished the game on a 17-7 run. The Heat’s 20-point differential in the third quarter was a team playoff record for that quarter in the playoffs, and the sixth time it outscored an opponent by at least 20 in any quarter.
Walker led the way for his team with 23 points, seven boards and three assists. Jaylon Brown and Tatum added 21 points each, and Marcus Smart tossed in 14. Daniel Theis was the rebound leader when he came down with eight. Boston had 41 rebounds in all, made 10-of-28 from the three, had three shot blocks, dished out 19 assists, made five steals and committed 20 turnovers.
For Miami, it made good on 14-of-43 3s, pulled down 38 rebounds, blocked two shots, handed out 27 assists, had 11 steals, and only nine turnovers. It trailed 31-28 after one quarter, 60-47 at the half, fell behind 84-77 after three quarters, and held off the late Celtic charge with one of its own. It was almost identical to the 117-144 victory in game one.
Oh, and Crowder’s 3-pointer with 5:43remaining in the third quarter was — fittingly — the 33,333rd in NBA playoff history.