It was a trying 48 hours for the Boston Celtics.
Not only were the Celtics stunned after blowing their second double-digit lead, which led the Miami Heat to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, but then were some rather tense aspects that followed the loss.
Tensions ran high in the locker room after Game 2. Words were said, things reportedly were thrown and emotional, sit-down meetings had to be held into the early Friday morning hours following the team’s second loss of the series.
Jaylen Brown admitted after Saturday’s game that he wasn’t able to sleep much the past two nights following his reported argument with Marcus Smart. Brown, however, did note he thought it was all blown out of proportion.
Either way, however, the Celtics entered Game 3 knowing there was a lot more on the table than just getting down three games to zero in a best-of-seven series. Ultimately, Saturday’s game would show their will to win, their perseverance and their character.
Head coach Brad Stevens thinks the Celtics’ 117-106 victory over the Heat it revealed all three.
“I told the story, I think I told the team this yesterday, I certainly told the staff two nights ago. But, this result didn’t really matter to me,” Stevens told reporters after the win, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “It was more about what are we going to show ourselves to be. I thought we were a really special group, a really good group, and the first time that we were pushed to more emotions that challenged us, we got better. And that’s encouraging.”
Stevens explained what went into it, too.
“Just took a bunch of good people committed to each other,” he said. “There’s no special talks, no special things, no rah-rah speeches. It’s who you have in the locker room, and are they committed to each other? Everyone is getting pushed to emotions in sports. That’s why, you know, I was curious to see what would happen tonight, but I didn’t have much doubt. I think this group has some good character.”
Brown agreed with the assessment, especially after coming off consecutive losses where Boston blew a pair of double-digit, second-half leads.
“It was about honing in, focusing,” Brown said. “There’s some great guys in that locker room. A lot of emotion, a lot of passion, but we’re a family. We’re here for each other at the end of the day. We explemified that when we came out, together. We stayed together.
“There were some tough moments… but we didn’t hang our heads. We kept our will high and persevered to win this game,” Brown said. “I’m glad to be apart of this team and this organization, and I’m proud with how we responded.”
Here’s some other notes from Saturday’s Celtics-Heat game:
— Gordon Hayward returned Saturday, playing his first game since suffering a Grade III ankle sprain Aug. 17.
The Celtics forward played 31 minutes and scored six points with five rebounds, four assists and three steals. He impressed Stevens with his first game back.
“We didn’t expect to play him that much, but with (Marcus) Smart in some foul trouble at the end of the third, (Daniel) Theis in foul trouble, I thought he looked pretty good,” Stevens said. “I thought he did what he’s done all year. He didn’t shoot it quite as much, but he is a stabilizing force for our team. He just can make a right play, make a play for somebody else at the right time. And he hit the big three as they were making a run, so I think it’s just, he makes us better. That’s for sure.”
— Hayward admitted to not feeling 100% after the game, and sharing that his ankle was feeling rather sore as he rehab in the NBA bubble has been much different than it would have been in different circumstances.
But still, the forward expressed that’s he’s going to give the team whatever he has.
“The first five minutes hit differently for sure,” Hayward said. “I think definitely not at 100%, but it’s kind of just what it is. It’s the Eastern Conference finals, so I’m going to give us whatever I can. As we keep going I’ll find my rhythm and be better and better, that’s the plan at least.”
— The Celtics quickly depicted a main focus going into the game, and it was attacking the paint. And behind Brown (26 points on 11-for-17 shooting) and Jayson Tatum (25 points on 9-for-20 shooting), the Celtics outscored the Heat 60-36 (!!) in the paint.
“Very, very important to control the paint,” Brown said. “What I do best is get to the basket, so I wanted to come out and just be the best version of myself.”
— It was a memorable night for Tatum.
Not only did he have an extremely efficient offensive game, but he joined a list that includes just Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and himself.
Tatum now has 20-plus points in six consecutive games and 24 career postseason games before age 23. Only James and Bryant have more, according to Celtics broadcaster Sean Grande.
Boston will return to the court Wednesday for Game 4 against the Heat.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images