The Celtics grabbed a 117-106 win over the Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday night, pulling within 2-1 in the series and reigniting their NBA Finals hopes.
Here are eight thoughts about where the series stands:
▪ Celtics coach Brad Stevens generally values keeping his best players fresh over keeping them on the floor for supremely long stretches, but during this series he is turning his stars into marathon men while Miami sticks with more traditional rotation patterns.
Even though the Heat have a 2-1 series lead, this approach has helped the Celtics a bit. Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart are all averaging more than 39 minutes per game. The Heat have no players at that mark. Miami has a deeper bench, but it is being outscored by 29.8 points per 100 possessions when Bam Adebayo sits.
Bench players Kelly Olynyk, Kendrick Nunn and Derrick Jones Jr. all have net ratings of minus-20 or worse. Look for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to give his starters a bit more run in Game 4.
▪ Gordon Hayward initially planned to leave the Orlando bubble to be with his wife for the birth of the couple’s fourth child, but now he is going to stay with the Celtics instead. He said it was partly because he was able to spend a few weeks with family when he left the bubble to rehabilitate his ankle injury, and partly because there was a chance that even if he flew from Orlando to Indiana he would miss the birth anyway.
This is certainly an unusual predicament, but hopefully the Haywards made this choice without feeling like they owed it to anyone for Hayward to keep playing basketball. The good news is that at the very latest, the season will be over in about three weeks.
It would be ironic if Robyn Hayward gives birth during, say, the NBA Finals against the Lakers, and Hayward ends up playing in the games because of an ankle injury that sent him home weeks earlier.
▪ The Celtics' backup center rotation during these playoffs has been fascinating.
Robert Williams, Enes Kanter, and Grant Williams have all had good moments and their appearances have been largely matchup-dependent, but the three have almost nothing in common on the court. Of the three, though, Grant Williams seems to have emerged as the most consistently trustworthy in big spots, which is saying something for a 21-year-old rookie who is considerably undersized at the position.
▪ Speaking of Kanter, he takes some heat when teams look to exploit him in pick-and-roll actions, but the advanced metrics love him during these playoffs. In his nine games, Boston has outscored opponents by 23.1 points per 100 possessions with Kanter on the floor. Tatum has the next closest net rating, nearly 15 points behind at 8.6. Most surprisingly, Kanter’s 96.6 defensive rating is tops among Boston’s regular rotation players. These stats are skewed a bit by the fact that Kanter’s heaviest workload came in the first-round sweep over the 76ers, but he has an 88.9 defensive rating against Miami, too.
▪ One new example of how Tatum has become a superstar: He had 25 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists in Boston’s Game 3 win, and it felt like maybe the fourth most important storyline.
▪ There is obviously no home-court advantage in the bubble, but the NBA has tried to create one with by pumping in crowd noise, having the PA announcer get overly excited about the home team, and by playing things like “defense” chants on the sound system. Well, the Celtics certainly haven’t noticed any of it. Over the past two series they are now 0-5 as the home team and 5-0 as the road team. They’ll be the home team in Game 5, so maybe Stevens should request Heat-centric artificial noise.
▪ There’s not a clear alternative, but a three-day break between Games 3 and 4 is outrageous, particularly since the teams remain sequestered in the bubble and there are no travel days involved. The bottom line is: Despite PR spin to convince you otherwise, television ratings have taken a considerable dip during this restart. And Monday belongs to Monday Night Football. In this case, ESPN has broadcast rights to both MNF and the Eastern Conference finals, so it might have made an extra push in fear of cannibalizing two of its premier events.
▪ The Celtics' emotions boiled over following their Game 2 loss but the team mostly minimized the postgame shouting matches, which is to be expected. But their follow-up after Game 3 felt more meaningful. Often, a team in this spot would flip the script after a big win and claim that, yes, in fact, the postgame altercation was helpful and impactful. But the Celtics maintained their initial stance that it had all been overblown in the first place, and that they are just a team that wants to win.