The Boston Celtics are still alive. Facing elimination in Miami on Tuesday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Heat, the Celtics showed some impressive poise and finally knocked down some 3-point shots in a season-saving 116-99 win. Now, the series will return to Boston for Game 5 on Thursday night.
As expected, the Celtics came out with all sorts of energy in the opening few minutes, but the Heat withstood that surge and responded to take control of the game and control much of the first half. They went into the break up six, and quickly extended their advantage to nine early in the third, and seemed on the verge of a big run to pull away. After that point, however, it was all Celtics. They immediately ripped off a 16-0 run to take the lead and never trailed again.
Jayson Tatum was terrific in the second half, and finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists on 14-of-22 from the field. He didn’t have a single fourth-quarter field goal in the first three games, but made some big plays in the fourth to prevent a comeback from the Heat. Another major factor was the Celtics’ 3-point shooting, which had been ice-cold to start the series. In this one, they knocked down 19 triples and outscored the Heat by 33 points from behind the arc.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Tatum leads the way
Jayson Tatum has not been the biggest issue for the Celtics in this series – far from it, in fact – but he also had zero fourth quarter field goals in the first three games and made some crucial mistakes down the stretch of Games 1 and 2. The Celtics needed a complete 48 minutes from him on Tuesday to stave off elimination, and he delivered.
In yet another clutch showing while facing elimination, Tatum poured in 33 points on 14-of-22 from the field and added 11 rebounds and seven assists. Even more impressive was the timing of some of his big moments, first to keep the Celtics in the game and then to help them pull away.
Early in the third, the Heat went up by nine after Tatum blocked a Max Strus 3, but the Heat forward recovered the ball and made the second attempt. A swing like that could have sent the Celtics spiraling, but Tatum wouldn’t let it happen. He immediately came back down and drained two triples of his own to spark a 16-0 run that put the Celtics in front for good.
Then, after the Heat had cut the deficit to five while he was on the bench early in the fourth, he checked back in and turned momentum around. He made a mid-range jumper in the middle of the Heat’s zone, which started a game-ending 12-0 run; during that stretch he scored or assisted on 10 of the points.
Celtics win the 3-point battle
If you had only watched this series and not the regular season, you would have no idea that the Celtics were sixth in the league in 3-point shooting (37.7 percent) and the Heat were 27th (34.4 percent). Through the first three games, the Heat went 44-of-92, while the Celtics were 31-of-106.
In a telling statistical note, the Heat’s 39-point advantage from the 3-point line in the first three games also matched their overall point differential for the series.
That trend reversed in a major way in Game 4, as the Celtics finally started seeing some shots go down and finished 18-of-45 from deep, compared to 8-of-32 for the Heat. For the playoffs, the Celtics are now 10-2 when they make at least 15 3s and 1-6 when they do not.
An even more encouraging sign for the Celtics was that it wasn’t just one or two players getting hot; the entire team got in on the action. Jayson Tatum, Grant Williams, Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Derrick White all hit at least three triples, and Jaylen Brown added another of his own.
‘Don’t let us get one’
The Celtics talked a big game prior to Tuesday night’s showdown. “Don’t let us get one,” Marcus Smart said. “Don’t let us win tonight,” Jaylen Brown added. “You let us get one, we feel confident.”
They backed up that talk with their best outing of the series and kept their season alive, but they still have a long road ahead. No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit, and of the 150 previous instances, only three teams have managed to force a Game 7.
The interesting aspect of this matchup is that the Celtics were massive favorites, where as most teams that go down 3-0 are massive underdogs. That is to say, they have a much better chance of making history than the majority of teams that were in this spot before them.
It will not be easy, though, especially against a Jimmy Butler-led side. The Celtics need three more perfect performances, starting with Game 5 at home, where they are actually under .500 in the postseason at 4-5.