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Looking back at the film from Saturday night’s Game 3 loss confirmed to the Celtics that just about all of their shortcomings against the Miami Heat had been entirely in their control.
A lack of initial urgency allowed a hungry Heat team to get off to a 39-18 lead after one quarter, and even though the Celtics were able to make a valiant comeback effort, cutting a 26-point deficit down to one, their abundance of turnovers and insufficient physicality prevented them from getting over the hump in a 109-103 defeat at TD Garden.
The Heat made it a point to punch back quickly after being embarrassed by Boston in a 25-point blowout loss on their home court in Game 2. And now, the Celtics need to do the same, as they look to respond in Game 4.
“They just really came out and hit us in the mouth early. They set the tone,” Payton Pritchard said following practice Sunday afternoon. “I think we were prepared for it. We knew what they were gonna do, but they set the tone and we let that happen. We’ve got to set the tone next game.”
In order to set the tone, Boston has to match Miami’s physicality out of the gate. Al Horford had said that the Heat came out like a wounded animal fighting for its life, and that’s the same approach his Celtics have to take the next time they take the court.
Jaylen Brown agreed, saying, “They came out all connected with urgency … Defensively they were more physical than us, and it showed in the first half especially, and then we tried to dig ourselves out in the second half and fell short.”
Miami’s physical defense led to a prolific number of Celtics turnovers – 23 to be exact. The Heat’s 19 steals were tied for the most that Boston has ever allowed in a playoff game.
It was a number that they weren’t proud of, and a number that certainly won’t be reached again in this series.
Head coach Ime Udoka says the key to curbing those turnovers is to not try to get too fancy and just make simple plays.
“Miami's a team that loads up like Milwaukee did, like Brooklyn did, so we've seen it throughout the playoffs and just understanding how to get our guys better looks and making quick decisions and not holding the ball and getting stagnant,” said Udoka. “That's the main thing that stood out is the number of turnovers, specifically live-ball turnovers for them, 19 steals, get out and run.
“And to be where we were, a one-point game with 2:20 left, with how poorly we played in that first quarter and how many opportunities we gave them. We had 10 (turnovers) at halftime, we talked about that, but at eight in the third quarter and six in the fourth quarter. So we got worse as the game went and still had a great opportunity. So areas we can easily clean up and look to improve on that tomorrow.”
Now facing a 2-1 series deficit, the Celtics know that there will be no room for controllable deficiencies in Game 4 at TD Garden because the last place they want to be is heading back to Miami facing the possibility of an early elimination.
It’s a high-pressure situation, but Grant Williams says that the team just needs to stay level-headed as it did after falling behind the Bucks 2-1 and then 3-2 in its previous series.
“At the end of the day, no matter what happens, whether it's a big win or big loss, you have to play it the right way,” said Williams. “We can't let it carry over. It's 2-1 right now and we play in front of our Garden fans and can make it 2-2. It's one of those things where we still control our destiny.
“We have to come out there and be a little more physically dominant and be more conscious of what we are trying to accomplish. Just like a regular season, there's going to be peaks and valleys, you are going to have success, and times you are not playing well but the best teams stick together through thick and thin, and they do their best job understanding the same thing can't beat you twice."