Heat embarrass Celtics, surge to 3-0 lead in East finals

Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat

The Heat, who entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, are just a win away from reaching the NBA Finals. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

The Miami Heat are just a win away from reaching the NBA Finals.

The Heat, after stealing a pair of games at TD Garden to start the series, ran over the Boston Celtics on Sunday night in South Florida. The Heat cruised to a 128-120 win over the Celtics, which gave them a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals and put them on the cusp of reaching their first NBA Finals since 2020.

“As you can tell, the rim was as big as the ocean for everybody,” Heat star Bam Adebayo said on TNT.

The Heat flew ahead in the first half, and at one point took a 21-point lead in the second quarter. While Boston rallied a bit and cut the deficit to 15 at the break, it still marked the Celtics’ largest halftime deficit so far this postseason. Their 46 points was their lowest scoring first half in the playoffs so far, too. The Celtics just looked out of it.

That didn’t get any better in the second half. The Heat opened the third quarter on a huge 28-10 run. Just like that, they were up by 33 points — which matched their largest lead all season. Absolutely nothing was going right for Boston, which managed just 17 points in the period, and the Heat took full advantage.

By then, the game was essentially over. The Heat held on to take the 26-point win as both teams rested their starters the rest of the way, which moved them to a 3-0 series lead.

“I just didn’t have them ready to play,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I should’ve. Whatever it was … I have to get them in a better place ready to play. That’s on me.”

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with just 14 points in the loss. He added 10 rebounds, but shot just 6-of-18 from the field. Jaylen Brown finished with 12 points. Those two were the only Celtics players to hit double figures. They’ve also shot a combined 7-of-40 from behind the arc so far in the series with Miami, and made just one combined 3-pointer on Sunday night. As a team, Boston shot 6-of-31 from the 3-point line.

Gabe Vincent led the Heat with 29 points in the win. He shot 6-of-9 from the 3-point line. Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin put up a combined 40 points off the bench, and Jimmy Butler finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists. The Heat shot better than 54% from the 3-point line as a team, and nearly 57% from the field. Miami is now the first No. 8 seed in league history to win a playoff game by 25 or more points, too.

Game 4 of the series is set for Tuesday night in Miami. If the Celtics don’t show up again then like they failed to do on Sunday night, the Heat may be looking at a clean sweep en route to another Finals appearance. Even if they don’t win on Tuesday, no team in NBA history has ever successfully rallied from a 3-0 deficit.

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