The Celtics fell to the Heat, 112-109, Wednesday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, pushing Boston to the brink of elimination with a 3-1 series deficit.
Here’s what we saw:
The first half was unbelievably ugly.
The game’s opening 24 minutes felt nothing like an Eastern Conference Finals game. In fact, it felt more like a mid-season game on the second night of a back-to-back for both teams. A lack of energy and urgency prevailed, and simply put, the quality of play was just brutal.
Boston had 11 turnovers over that span, its most in an opening half since arriving in the bubble. Jayson Tatum was 0-for-6, Marcus Smart was 2-for-7, Gordon Hayward was 1-for-5 and Jaylen Brown had four turnovers of his own. The Celtics went into halftime down 50-44, which was their lowest-scoring first half of the postseason.
It was a miracle the deficit wasn’t larger, but some of that has to do with the lack of intensity on Miami’s side, even though it was to a lesser degree than the Celtics’ issues. It was rough all-around, but Boston’s offense seemed to take the award for most-ugly with an offensive rating of 89.8. Brad Stevens said after the game that his team was lucky to only trail by six at the break.
“I thought our first half, for whatever reason, we didn’t look crisp,” Stevens said. “Obviously that showed itself in our shooting numbers. I thought we were lucky to be 50-44 at halftime, to be candid.”
Jayson Tatum’s slow start headlined the early moments of this game.
Tatum looked completely out of sorts in the first half, going 0-for-6 from the floor with three turnovers. You rarely see Tatum go scoreless in a half, but this was worse than a tough shooting stint. The All-Star was out of rhythm on both sides of the ball, looking disengaged at times on defense and making questionable decisions on the offense end. That decision-making led to some mismatches on a few occasions, and Miami was able to take full advantage.
The Heat’s long wings did a nice job on Tatum whenever he tried to get downhill, causing him to look unsettled throughout the half. It was just the 10th time in his career that he’d gone scoreless in the first half and the second time he’d done so in a postseason game, per The Athletic’s Jared Weiss.
Tatum’s third quarter brought the Celtics back to life.
After Tatum got on the board in the third quarter, he was able to string together 10 points in roughly five minutes. Following his scoreless first half, Tatum had 16 points in the third quarter, leading the offensive surge Boston so desperately needed to stick around entering the fourth quarter.
COUNT IT pic.twitter.com/IJh4QQrQfE
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 24, 2020
Tatum looked much more engaged defensively as well, which did wonders for Boston’s offensive rhythm. He closed the frame with a jumper followed by a loud block on the other end, which was a snapshot of his third-quarter stint.
JT said ENOUGH pic.twitter.com/HvnRA16VGN
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 24, 2020
He’d ultimately score 28 points in the game’s final 19 minutes.
Tyler Herro was terrific for Miami.
The rookie sharpshooter has been great for the Heat all postseason, but Herro took it to another level Wednesday night, finishing with 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting. He was 5-of-10 on 3-pointers. That’s an impressive postseason performance for any NBA player. When it comes from a rookie off the bench, it’s even more noteworthy.
He went at Kemba Walker all game long, killing the Celtics on seemingly every possession. By the time Boston moved Marcus Smart onto him in the fourth quarter, it was too late. And even then, Herro continued to shoot with confidence from the perimeter, consistently finding the looks he wanted.
Brad Stevens had the chance to pick his poison all night long, debating to leave Smart on Goran Dragic or move him to Herro. It’s a tough choice, but it may have been worthwhile to move Smart over a bit earlier. And even if Stevens wanted to keep Smart on that assignment, shifting Walker off Herro earlier could have done Boston some good down the stretch.
The Celtics were careless with the ball when it mattered most.
Boston had five turnovers in the fourth quarter’s first five minutes, pushing its total up to 17 for the game at the 6:41 mark. Much of this careless play came with the Celtics best-five lineup in the game, with bad passes and brutal lapses on both end leading to Miami’s strong fourth-quarter finish. Boston finished the fourth with seven turnovers, which obviously is not good enough to close out a playoff game.
By comparison, the Heat didn’t give the ball away in the final quarter until the final minute, when Jimmy Butler had the ball stolen by Tatum with 32 seconds left. It wasn’t just down the stretch, however. Boston struggled to take care of the ball all night long. Miami finished with eight turnovers, while the Celtics finished with 19. Tatum, Smart and Brown combined for 14 of those turnovers
The Heat went on a 23-13 run heading into the final minute of the regulation, but more importantly, they didn’t beat themselves. A lot of Boston’s mistakes this round have been self-inflicted, and it was no different down the stretch Wednesday night.
Boston and Miami meet for Game 5 on Friday night.
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