The Eastern Conference Finals are now linked after the Boston Celtics dominated the Miami Heat in Game Four to claim a 102-82 victory on Monday night. It was never so close, as the Boston side capitalized on Miami’s shooting struggles to take a solid 24-point lead into the break and never looked back from there. Jason Tatum led the way for the Celtics with 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but it was a truly team effort as four of Boston’s five rookies scored double goals.
Victor Oladipo bore the scoring burden as he finished the match with 23 points. The Heat struggled all night to get anything to attack them, and as a result they will now be back in Miami as the series is tied in two games each. Game 5 will take place on Wednesday in Miami as both sides try to gain an advantage in a two-way battle.
Here are three notes from Boston’s win over Miami in Game 4.
1. The Night of Tatum’s Backlashes
Tatum finished Game 3 with just 10 points in 40 minutes of action. The Heat defended him incredibly well in that competition, shooting just 21.4 percent from the field and going 1 of 7 out of a 3-point area. His poor scoring performance was one of the main reasons the Celtics lost that match, despite Jalen Brown’s exit with 40 points. So it was clear that Tatum would try to start early in Game 4 to avoid repeating performances from his previous game.
Fast forward to Monday night and Tatum surpassed his points total from the previous game with two minutes left in the first quarter. Not only was he making easy shots – something he struggled with in Game 3 – but he was also knocking down some incredibly tough looks even though Miami’s defense was wrapped up in him. On several occasions, he drove to the edge and twisted his body just enough to avoid potential blocks from Bam Adebayo and finish hard at the ledge. He still struggled to make things go from the distance, but he celebrated what the heat gave him from the edge and from the midrange. He’s the exact kind of performance the Celtics needed from Tatum after a disappointing showing in Game 3, and his aggressive play from start to finish helped bring his team back to the streak even before he hit the road again.
2. Historically bad night on the attack for the heat
Miami started Game 4 missing the first 14 shots in a row, dropping by 17 points in the process. Oladipo’s triple with 3:22 left in the first quarter ended that drought, but by then Boston had already had a 14-point lead, and the game felt like the game was really over from that moment on. Miami only put one point in the first eight minutes of the game was Fewest points from the qualifying team In the last 25 years of the league. To make matters worse, Miami’s 11 points total in the first quarter was the lowest in franchise history. The Heat finished the night shooting with only 33.3 percent of the field and 38.9 percent of the three-point area, and as a result, this game ended with a few minutes in the third quarter.
Well, you could say it was a tough day at The Heat office. Shooting struggles cemented the importance of Tyler Herro in this team, who missed Game 4 with a thigh injury. Herro’s ability to create his own shot, while creating goal-scoring opportunities for his teammates is integral to Miami’s success, and his absence was deafening on Monday night. Oladipo did his best to fill that void off the bench as he led all of the Heat’s scorers with 23 points, but when Pam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and Butler combined for just 18 points, Miami wouldn’t win many games. Those 18 points scored by the Heat’s players were the lowest points a home team had scored in a playoff since the 1970-71 season. Meanwhile, Tatum scored more points (31) than all five Miami junior players combined (18).
Although the Heat struggled really hard in Game 4, it should be noted that Butler, Laurie, Gabe Vincent, Max Strauss and PJ Tucker all appeared in the injury report as well as Hiro heading into this match. Butler was dealing with knee inflammation and didn’t play in the second half of Game 3 because of that, so it’s unclear how much that affected his performance on Monday night. While every team remaining in the playoffs is dealing with a variety of injuries, it was clear Monday night that some Miami players were feeling the effects of the non-stop schedule. We’ll have to see how the Heat respond in Game 5 at their home ground, because if they show up playing as they did in Game 4, they should expect the same result again.
3. Back and forth this series go
The story of this series revolves around any team that can run and maintain a run. In the first game, Miami edged Boston by 24 points in the third quarter which ended up becoming the difference maker in that contest. In the second game, the Celtics came back in the favour, beating the Heat by 25 points in the second half and keeping their footing in that win. Miami responded in Game 3 with a 39-point performance in the first quarter that helped them move into what ended up being a closely contested game.
With the explosion of Boston 4, the theme of the winning team making headway continues and with the series returning to Miami for Game 5, we’ll have to see if this trend continues. This is not how I expected this streak to continue given how great both teams are on defense. So the idea of either team coming out with those massive leads that were mostly what made the difference in the game was really surprising. Neither team appears to have been able to achieve consistency from game to game, so this trend is likely to continue for the rest of the series. So, if you’re The Heat, despite the poor performance in Game 4, you should feel good about your chances of recovery given the seething nature of the series.