Upping Physicality is Essential for C’s Following Game 3 Loss

Several Celtics players at Saturday morning’s shootaround warned about the likelihood of the Miami Heat coming out with a vengeance in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals after Boston had blown them out by 25 points on the road two nights prior.

They weren’t wrong.

Miami tore open Game 3 with a 39-18 first quarter Saturday night and went ahead by as many as 26 points, before coming away with a 109-103 win at TD Garden to take a 2-1 series lead.

“They were just like a wounded animal. They came out fighting,” Al Horford said after logging 20 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks in the losing effort. “For whatever reason, we just didn't have that same sense of urgency.”

Despite knowing this type of effort was coming, the Celtics couldn’t stop it. Miami’s physical defense forced 24 Boston turnovers, which included a franchise playoff-record 19 steals. Meanwhile, the Heat only coughed the rock up eight times themselves, as they remained poised while holding off a furious Celtics rally in the fourth quarter.

“From the beginning, their pressure felt like it bothered us, and we didn't respond,” said Horford. “It's happened to us a couple of times this playoff run. It's something that we continue to fight, and it seemed like every time we put ourselves in a position, we turned the ball over. We've got to look at the film tomorrow, see how we can be better for (Game 4) Monday.”

The Celtics have done a tremendous job of responding to adversity throughout the season. Since Jan. 21, they’ve gone 11-1 in games immediately following a loss.

They’ll put their faith in their head coach to help them continue that trend in Game 4, knowing that if they don’t, they’ll be facing a 3-1 deficit.

“Coach (Ime) Udoka has been doing a good job with us all year making adjustments, and especially in the Playoffs from game to game,” Horford said. “We see things that we need to fix, figure it out, put it together, and move forward. I expect us to do that.”

Udoka says that one of their biggest adjustments will be taking better care of the ball. He wasn’t happy with their lack of ball security throughout the night, and that is something that needs to be fixed heading into Monday’s rematch.

“When you turn the ball over 24 times and gift them 33 points out of that, you dig yourself a hole,” Udoka said. “Credit, we fought back and got it to a one-point game and made some mistakes and more turnovers, but you dig yourself in that big of a hole due to playing in a crowd, we understand how they're going to guard us. They're doing it all series: load up. Every team does that – load up and penetrate and over-penetrate and get yourself in tough situations instead of relying on your teammates.”

Part of the reason why Miami was able to capitalize on most of those turnovers was the introduction of a new weapon into the series. Kyle Lowry made his first appearance after dealing with a strained hamstring throughout the first two rounds, and the starting point guard immediately made an impact with his ability to push the pace and get his team moving in transition.

Another benefit for the Heat was the re-emergence of Bam Adebayo. After scoring only 16 points in the first two games combined, Adebayo took advantage of a Robert Williams-less Celtics squad in Game 3 by pouring in a team-high 31 points to go along with 10 rebounds and four steals.

The fifth-year center bullied the Celtics with his physicality, which doesn’t happen often against the league’s No. 1 defense, but has been an issue for them this series.

“That's a big part of who we are,” Udoka said of his team’s physicality, “and we've kind of fallen off as far as that in certain aspects in this series so far and got to come back and match that. That can't be the reason we lose the series. That's obviously an identity we want to have on our side, and to come out and get bullied around a little bit is disappointing for sure.”

Such disappointment will disappear if the Celtics can figure out how to match Miami’s physicality and not get punched in the mouth again.

“We know who Miami is,” said Jaylen Brown, who logged a playoff career-high 40 points in the loss. “That's what they pride themselves on is physicality. If we want to win this series, we've got to match that intensity. We've just got to man up.”

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