After dropping the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics took control of Game 3 from the opening tip to defeat the Miami Heat 117-106. The Celtics trail the Heat 2-1 heading into Game 4, but they finally have Gordon Hayward in the lineup after he suffered a gnarly ankle injury last month.

Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward Miami Heat
Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (sprained ankle) returned in Game 3 against the Miami Heat. (Image: Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 26 points while Jayson Tatum added 25 in the victory. Kemba Walker scored 21 points and broke out of his shooting funk. It’s not so much as the Celtics solved the Heat’s 2-3 zone defense as much as they knocked down open shots and executed better shots.

“We kept our will high and we persevered to win this game,” said Brown.

The Celtics come into Game 4 as -3 favorites to even the series at 2-2.

#3 Boston Celtics (1-2) vs #5 Miami Heat (2-1)
  • Tip-off: 5:30pm PT
  • Point Spread: BOS -3
  • Total: 212 o/u
  • Moneyline: MIA +140 / BOS -150

DraftKings listed their NBA playoffs series lines, and the Miami Heat are -143 odds to win the Eastern Conference Finals and advance to the NBA Finals. The Celtics are +115 to defeat the Heat.

The Heat are +550 odds to win the NBA championship, while the Celtics are +700 to win the NBA title outright.

The Heat are also the favorite to meet the LA Lakers in the NBA Finals, which would pit LeBron James against one of his former teams and ex-head coach, Erik Spoelstra.

Hayward Returns Ahead Schedule

It’s a fairly simple formula, but when Boston’s Big 3 have a good game offensively, then they’ll be in the best position to win. Tatum, Walker, and Brown combined for 72 points.

Marcus Smart added 20 points, but he provided the Celtics with clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch. Smart went 9-for-9 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter to help seal the victory.

Unlike the first two games in which the Celtics choked in the second half during Miami counterattacks (including blowing a 17-point lead in Game 2), they were able to get stops and combat Heat runs with a quick offensive spurt of their own.

“We did some good things tonight to answer their runs,” said Brad Stevens.

Gordon Hayward returned to the Celtics after nursing an ankle injury for most of the postseason. The Celtics didn’t expect him to be ready until October, but he recovered faster than expected and returned with a rad mustache that makes him look more like a bartender at your local craft brewery than a pro baller.

Hayward came off the bench and played 31 minutes for the Celtics. He looked a tad rusty shooting 2-for-7, but they were happy to have him on the floor. The Cobra 5 (Tatum, Walker, Brown, Smart, and Hayward) were finally reunited.

“We’re so much better when he’s out there and so much more dynamic, so much more versatile when he’s out there,” said Tatum.

“He is a stabilizing force for our team,” added Stevens. “He can make the right play and make a play for somebody else at the right time.”

Rough Night Downtown, Miami Still in Control

The Heat rallied back from being down double digits in the first two games of the series, but were unable to flip the switch in Game 3 and pull off another comeback win against the Celtics. Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 27 points and hauled down 16 rebounds in the loss.

“We’re not the type of team where we can go through the motions and try and figure out everything in the first half,” said Adebayo. “Then in the third or fourth we just try to turn it on. We are not that type of team. We’ve got to play with detail.”

The Heat’s awful perimeter game led to their downfall. The Heat shot only 38.8% from the floor, including a subpar 12-for-44 from 3-point range for a 27.3% clip. The bench shot a combined 5-for-20 from downtown. Duncan Robinson knocked down 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, but the rest of the starters struggled with a 3-for-16 clip. Jae Crowder had an awful night from downtown with a dismal 2-for-10 effort from long range.

“We didn’t play hard enough,” Butler said. “We didn’t do anything that we said that we were going to do.”

Goran Dragic scored only 11 points, or half his average, on an ugly 2-for-10 night from the floor.

“This is the conference finals, playing against a really good team,” explained Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “You cannot lack in the areas of toughness, physicality, detail, force. They won all of those battles plus the easy transition ones.”

The Heat will continue to throw up a zone against the Celtics, but they’ll have to do a much better job on stopping Boston’s transition offense.

The Heat are 10-2 SU in the postseason and 10-2 ATS.

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