NBA: Hayward returns, Celtics take Game 3 of East Finals


Posted at Sep 20 2020 11:31 AM | Updated as of Sep 20 2020 03:00 PM

NBA: Hayward returns, Celtics take Game 3 of East Finals 1
Gordon Hayward #20 of the Boston Celtics shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs on September 19, 2020 at The AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Nathaniel S. Butler, NBAE via Getty Images/AFP

(2nd UPDATE) The Boston Celtics are on the board in the Eastern Conference Finals after pulling off a 117-106 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 3.

The Celtics welcomed back Gordon Hayward in Saturday's game at the Walt Disney World Complex in Orlando (US time), and grabbed their first win of the best-of-seven series.

Miami had won Games 1 and 2 in thrilling fashion, coming from behind to snatch wins against Boston.

This time around, the Celtics held on, nursing a double-digit lead for most of the second half after a strong finish to the second quarter.

"Our whole team was aggressive. Our whole team played with the right mentality. And most importantly responded to their good runs and tough shots really well and then pushed leads out," said Boston coach Brad Stevens after the game.

"The run at the end of the first half was a great one and, you know, in response to when they cut it to four or five right there. And then, yeah, even when they got it closer in the second, with the exception of the last minute, I thought we responded," he added. 

"The last couple minutes, I thought we responded pretty well."

Hayward had missed a month due to a right ankle sprain that he suffered in Boston's first round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. He missed all of the Celtic's conference semifinals series against the Toronto Raptors, which went seven games.

He entered Saturday's game midway through the first quarter, and finished with six points, five rebounds, and four assists in 31 minutes of playing time.

The Celtics took control of the game in the second quarter, when they uncorked a 12-2 run to turn a slim 3-point lead into a more comfortable 63-50 advantage at the break.

They continued to pad their lead in the third frame, with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combining for 14 points in the frame.

But like they did in Games 1 and 2, the Heat refused to fade away. 

After trailing by as much as 20 points with 7:13 left, 100-80, the Heat rallied to within eight points, 109-101, with still 1:12 to go after Duncan Robinson made a three-pointer.

A flagrant foul called on Brown helped the Heat trim the lead further as Robinson made one of two free throws, and Bam Adebayo scored to make it a five-point game, 109-104, with still 55 seconds to go.

It was the closest Miami would get, however, as Marcus Smart coolly knocked down eight free throws in the final minute to help Boston cling to victory.

"They're tough," Stevens said of the Heat, who lost for only the second time in the postseason. "They keep coming at you with the three-pointer. And I said this earlier today, a 17-point lead on Miami is like eight. It just doesn't -- it's not that big."

"So as bad as we feel of seeing the story over and over with the three-point shot, we did some good things tonight to answer their runs most of the time," he added.

Brown had 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Tatum was close to a triple-double with 25 points, 14 rebounds, and eight dimes.

Kemba Walker (21 points) shrugged off his recent shaky shooting, and Smart scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.

Adebayo led the Heat with 27 points and 16 rebounds, while Jimmy Butler had 17 points and eight rebounds. Rookie Tyler Herro came off the bench to score 22 points. 

Miami shot just 38.8% from the field in the game, while allowing Boston to make 48.2% of their shots. 

The teams will take three days off, with Game 4 of the series scheduled for Thursday morning, Manila time.