Celtics beat Heat to haul themselves back into contention in Eastern Conference Finals

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Jaylen Brown scored 26 points, Jayson Tatum added 25 and Gordon Hayward made his return on Saturday night as the Boston Celtics beat the Miami Heat to haul themselves back into contention in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Game leaders

Miami Heat

  • Points: Bam Adebayo – 27
  • Assists: Jae Crowder – 5
  • Rebounds: Bam Adebayo – 16

Boston Celtics

  • Points: Jaylen Brown – 26
  • Assists: Jayson Tatum – 8
  • Rebounds: Jayson Tatum – 14

Heat lead series 2-0

After falling 2-0 behind in the series following Thursday’s defeat, Celtics players reportedly aired their frustrations in a raucous locker room and it seemed to do the trick as they were never behind in a 117-106 victory.

The Celtics were also boosted by the return of Hayward, who scored six points in 31 minutes of a welcome return from an ankle injury that has kept him out since August 17.

“I didn’t expect to play him that much,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

“I thought he looked pretty good, he asked to come out a couple times – the wind caught up to him a couple times – but I thought he did what he’s done all year.”

Kemba Walker scored 21 points and Marcus Smart 20 as the Celtics, for whom Tatum added 14 rebounds, shot 48.2 per cent (41 of 85) as a team, outscoring Miami 60-36 in the paint.

“I’m extremely tired right now, my ankle is pretty sore, but I’m proud of the way we fought and proud of us getting the win,” Hayward said.

“They are a hard-playing team, they compete. They are obviously extremely well coached and they don’t give up.

“I think they also have a lot of guys that can get going, especially from the outside, so leads aren’t safe and they can score in bunches, as we’ve seen in the first two games.

“Tonight, I think me personally, just trying to help us offensively, being somebody who can get in the paint, create, also trying to help us rebound, bring the ball up. I think if we can run, that can’t set their defence and we have so many good athletes, so many guys that can score and bring up the ball – it makes it difficult for them.”

For Miami, Bam Adebayo had 27 points and 16 rebounds, while Tyler Herro scored 22 to lead six players in double figures for the Heat, who suffered just their second defeat in 12 playoff games en route to their lead in the Eastern Finals.

“We didn’t play hard enough,” said Jimmy Butler, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

“We weren’t playing basketball the way that we have been to win the games that we have been winning.”

Boston never trailed, carrying a 13-point advantage into the second half for the second straight game but unlike in Game 2, when they were outscored 37-17 in the third quarter, the Celtics maintained control and entered the fourth with a 15-point advantage.

It was a lead they increased to as many as 20 in the final period but Miami stayed competitive and at one stage got within a couple of baskets to lead the Celtics wobbling.

Trailing 109-102, after Duncan Robinson nailed a 3-pointer and hit 1 of 2 at the line following a Brown flagrant foul with 1:03 left, Adebayo trimmed the deficit to five with 55.9 seconds to go, but Smart hit eight free throws as the Celtics held on.

Boston led 31-22 after the opening quarter and extended their lead to 12 on a Walker 3-pointer with 10:14 left in the first half to lead 36-24.

Miami responded with a Herro-inspired 13-4 run to get within three with just over three minutes of the half remaining remaining but the Celtics ended the quarter on a dominant run of their own, a 12-2 burst giving them a 63-50 at the break.

“They came out with great force in this game, and you do have to credit them for that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

After three games in five days, the teams now have a three game break before Wednesday’s all-important Game 4 in the best-of-seven series.