The 2019-20 season saw the emergence of Jayson Tatum as a genuine star.

Tatum – the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft – turned potential into performance as he capped a memorable campaign with All-Star honours for the first time in his career.

An elite scorer, Tatum was at the forefront of everything good about the Celtics before and after the coronavirus pandemic.

But, the Celtics still lost in the Conference finals for the third time in four years – beaten 4-2 by the Miami Heat at Walt Disney World Resort – after finishing third in the east with a 48-24 record.

The Celtics are yet to reach the NBA Finals since 2009-10, while the historic franchise have not got their hands on the Larry O'Brien trophy since the Doc Rivers era in 2007-08.

As the Celtics reflect after watching the Los Angeles Lakers equal their record for most championships (17), we review the team's 2019-20 campaign using Stats Perform data.

 

Boston's dynamic trio

Kemba Walker's arrival in Boston helped create a formidable trio alongside Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

After spending his entire NBA career at the Charlotte Hornets, four-time All-Star Walker opted for a new challenge via free agency by committing to a four-year, $141million contract with the Celtics.

As a result, Terry Rozier left the Celtics for the Hornets in a sign-and-trade last year.

Since investing in Walker, the Celtics have put together a stellar trio, which became just the second group of three team-mates in NBA history to average 20-plus points and 2-plus three-pointers made per game apiece in a season (minimum 50 games played).

Walker averaged 20.4 points and 3.2 three-pointers made per game during the regular season, to go with Tatum (23.4ppg and 2.9 3pm) and Brown (20.3ppg and 2.3 3pm).

The only other trio to do so were the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson in 2017-18.

 

Tatum joins elite list

It was a coming of age for Tatum, much to the delight of the Celtics and all those connected with the team.

Tatum cemented himself as one of the best players in the league by averaging 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game – up on his 2018-19 averages of 15.7ppg, 6.0rpg and 2.1 apg.

The 22-year-old also enjoyed a fine playoff campaign, becoming only the third player in NBA history to average 25.0-plus points, 10.0-plus rebounds and 5.0-plus assists per game in a single postseason with 15 or more games played.

Lakers superstar LeBron James (in 2014-15 and 2019-20) and Boston's Larry Bird (in 1983-84 and 1986-87) are the only other players to reach the feat.

 

Lack of depth

For all of Boston's good work and impressive starting five, their lack of depth was exposed in the playoffs.

The Celtics relied on their starters more than any other team in the postseason at 83.3 per cent with 1,549 of their 1,859 points scored by the starting five, ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (83.1 per cent), Indiana Pacers (82.6 per cent), Houston Rockets (77.3 per cent) and Portland Trail Blazers (76.5 per cent).

As for the portion of minutes played by starters in the postseason, the Celtics (75.0 per cent) again topped the list ahead of the Pacers (72.2 per cent), 76ers (72.0 per cent), Utah Jazz (71.8 per cent) and Rockets (70.9 per cent).

The Celtics had fewer than 25 bench points in each of their last 15 playoff games this year, one of the longest streaks in a single postseason in the past 35 years, only behind the Detroit Pistons (19 in 2005) and Pacers (17 in 2013).

The problem of a thin bench was likely exacerbated by the number of close games the Celtics played in, since teams usually need their best players on the floor for longer periods of time in tight encounters.

Boston had eight playoff games decided by five points or less, tied for second most in a single postseason in franchise history.

Also, this was the second consecutive year the Celtics had some issues with turnovers in the playoffs. After going plus-1.4 for turnovers in the regular season, Boston were then minus-1.4 in the postseason.

Is Doc Rivers the man to complete the process for the Philadelphia 76ers?

For so long, fans and pundits alike have been told to "Trust the Process" in Philadelphia, but things have not gone according to plan.

Having tanked and started from the bottom seven years ago following a drastic rebuild of Philadelphia's roster and psyche, the long-term vision delivered stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

But it has only yielded two trips to the Eastern Conference semi-finals, with the 76ers humiliatingly swept by rivals the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs this season.

Bowing out with barely a whimper at Walt Disney World Resort cost head coach Brett Brown his job following seven gruelling years, and raised further questions over the compatibility of franchise pillars Embiid and Simmons.

General manager Elton Brand and the 76ers will be hoping championship-winner Rivers has the answers, having turned to the former Los Angeles Clippers and Celtics coach on a five-year deal, in pursuit of a first title since 1983.

As Rivers – who departed the Clippers following a postseason capitulation – tries to get the 76ers back on track, we look at the 58-year-old using Stats Perform data.

 

Rivers crosses the divide

There is no love lost between the Celtics and 76ers in the Eastern Conference, and Rivers has history in Boston.

Rivers spent nine years as head coach of the Celtics, delivering a championship to the storied franchise in 2008.

As the 76ers try to get the best out of Embiid and Simmons, they will be encouraged by Rivers' ability to bring stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo together en route to NBA Finals success 12 years ago.

Though, he was unable to take star recruits Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the second-seeded Clippers to the decider this season.

NBA Coach of the Year in 2010, Rivers coached 827 games with the Celtics – including playoffs – which is the second most in franchise history.

Rivers is no stranger to the Celtics-76ers rivalry, having experienced 42 showdowns – boasting a 25-17 record between 2004 and 2013.

Chris Ford (30 with the 76ers and 439 with the Celtics) and Jim O'Brien (87 with the 76ers and 284 with the Celtics) also coached both teams.

 

Doc nearing top 10

Whichever way you want to look at it, Rivers is just a few wins away from joining an esteemed group of coaches.

He has 1,034 career wins (770 losses) across the regular season and playoffs – just three victories shy of entering the top 10 for all-time wins in the NBA, level with Red Auerbach. Current San Antonio Spurs great Gregg Popovich tops the list with 1,447.

If you are just looking at the regular season, Rivers has overseen 943 wins (681 defeats), one behind 10th-placed Bill Fitch. Former Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson – a three-time championship-winning coach – stands alone at the top with 1,335.

 

Playoff woes after regular-season success

Rivers swapped the east for the west amid much fanfare and a lucrative pay cheque as the highest-paid coach at the time.

He oversaw the fifth-best record in the NBA with the Clippers – 356-208 in the regular season – but failed to reach the Finals.

The Clippers also top the list for most consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins on nine – seven of those campaigns were on Rivers' watch.

Rivers has a 66.2 winning percentage in his first four seasons with a team, only behind Steve Kerr (80.8), Avery Johnson (73.5), Mike D'Antoni (68.2) and Stan Van Gundy (67.7).

He went 217-11 in his first four seasons with the Clippers, winning at least 50 games each season. However, Rivers went 139-97 (58.9 per cent) over the last three campaigns, failing to reach 50 wins in each season (though he would surely have reached that total this season had it not been for the coronavirus shutdown). Los Angeles finished 49-23.

Rivers was unable to snap the Clippers' curse of never making the Finals – a run of 50 consecutive seasons without appearing in the NBA's showpiece. Only the Atlanta Hawks (59) and Sacramento Kings (69) have been waiting longer, though they have previously advanced.

He is the only coach in NBA history to blow multiple 3-1 leads in the playoffs following the Clippers' capitulation at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals this season. His Clippers also surrendered a 3-1 lead in 2015, as did the 2003 Orlando Magic.

In another concerning postseason trend, there have been seven teams to lose a Game 7 at home by 13 or more points – Rivers was the coach responsible for the last three such games (2017 Clippers, 2009 Celtics, 2005 Celtics).

LeBron James is basketball's ultimate test and the Miami Heat will have to be "near perfect" to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, admits Jimmy Butler.

The Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 125-113 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday to clinch a 4-2 series triumph.

It marks the first time Miami will contest the NBA Finals since making the last of four in a row in 2014, which marked the James' final season as a Heat player.

Butler is under no illusions as to the size of the task the team faces but insists the Heat still have another level to reach.

"The main key, and it's been like this for a very long time, if you want to win, you're going to have to go through a LeBron James-led team," said Butler, who had 22 points and eight assists. 

"At the end of the day, that's what it normally comes down to. That's what we got to focus in on. 

"Obviously you can't focus in on him because he has so many really good players around him, but you're going to get the same test over and over again until you pass, and that test is LeBron James.

"I said it time and time again. I believe in our group. I know that we can still win four more. We're not satisfied. We're not complacent. 

"We know we've got a really good team to go up against. We can enjoy it for the night. We said this from the beginning of the year."

Asked how Miami have fought their way past teams who were seeded higher in the East, Butler replied: "Together. That's how we were able to do it. I don't look at five-seed or one-seed. 

"It's all about who is playing the best basketball at the right time.

"I feel like we're still yet to play our absolute best basketball, but along the way, we realise what we have to do moving forward.

"So we have to be near perfect to beat the Lakers. We're capable of it. But we're not worried about no five-seed or one-seed. We're worried about us and being the best Miami Heat team that we can be."

Bam Adebayo was a talisman for the Heat, putting up 32 points, 14 rebounds and five assists to dominate the Celtics just a couple of days on from taking the blame for Miami's loss in Game 5.

"I let my team-mates down again in Game 5. You know, I just had to realign myself and who I really want to become," he said. "I showed that tonight. You said you wanted to see me be a scorer in the fourth, well, there you go.

"It's just one of those things, you know, coaches they want me to be better and they want me to do great things. That's the first time I got plays, back-to-back, back-to-back. 

"Being in that moment and embracing it and taking over is a great thing for me. But at the end of the day, we got four more. Our business isn't done yet."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens conceded his team did not get a good enough grip on Adebayo.

"I thought today after we had the lead, Adebayo, and credit all of them, but Adebayo deciding he's just going to drive the ball put us in a real bind with the shooters around him," he said. 

"And their physicality is something that I'm not sure that we probably talked about enough. 

"They're strong, they're physical, they're tough and, him in particular, dominated that fourth quarter. Even the plays where he didn't score, his presence was so impactful and it put us in a real bind with the ability to guard him."

The Miami Heat's fairytale season continues after setting up an NBA Finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers at the expense of the Boston Celtics.

Bam Adebayo led the way as the Heat topped the Celtics 125-113 to seal a 4-2 series victory in the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday.

The Heat had not reached the Finals since losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 showpiece, while LeBron James was still in Miami.

Miami were not expected to challenge for the championship after missing the playoffs last season, having finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, but Jimmy Butler's arrival has helped transform the Heat.

Butler put up 22 points, but it was Adebayo who ignited the Heat with a season-high 32 points and 14 rebounds in Game 6 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Tyler Herro added 19 points off the bench, while veteran Andre Iguodala dazzled – going five for five from the field and four for four from three-point range for 15 points as the Heat advanced to the Finals for the sixth time.

The Celtics bowed out, despite Jaylen Brown's 26 points and Jayson Tatum's double-double of 24 points and career-high 11 assists.

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart also had 20 points apiece for Boston.

 

Heat face Lakers

The NBA Finals will get underway on Wednesday. The top-seeded Lakers will be looking to claim their first championship since 2010.

Bam Adebayo took the blame for the Miami Heat's Game 5 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Friday, though Jimmy Butler did not agree with his assessment.

The Heat failed to close out the Eastern Conference finals as they blew a 12-point lead to lose 121-108, meaning their series advantage was cut to 3-2 ahead of Game 6 on Sunday.

Adebayo, who played with a sleeve on his left arm after supposedly suffering an injury late in Game 4, contributed 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting, eight rebounds and eight assists but felt he lacked intensity on the defensive end.

"I played like s***. Bottom line. I put that game on me. It's not my team-mates' fault, it's not my coaches' fault, it's me. I missed too many shots I should have made. Put that one on me," said Adebayo.

"I wasn't being the defensive anchor that I should have been. I don't think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind today.

"I got to be better. That's the bottom line. That's it. There's no excuses to this ... this game is on me. I played terrible and that can't happen."

Butler insisted the defeat was "on everybody" and said he would attempt to lift Adebayo's spirits ahead of Game 6. 

"It's not [on Adebayo]. It's on everybody. He does so much for us that it could feel like that at times, but it's definitely not on him. It's on us as a whole," said Butler. 

"We all understand that because nobody was playing the way we're supposed to play, the way we have to play in order for us to win. Nobody. And for him to say that, I respect it, I love him for it. But he can't do it by himself – we've got to be there with him. 

"I will [speak to him] but I think he knows you can't get stuck on this game now. We learn from it, it's something of the past. But we're going to need him to be who he is on Sunday. 

"We need everybody to be that way. We're gonna watch film, we're gonna learn from it, not saying we already don't know what went wrong, but we'll be ready to go. We will fix it." 

Brad Stevens felt improved defense helped the Boston Celtics turn Game 5 against the Miami Heat to stay alive in the NBA playoffs.

The Celtics rallied for a 121-108 victory over Miami on Friday to cut the Heat's Eastern Conference finals lead to 3-2.

But Boston struggled early, trailing by 12 points, before a 41-25 third quarter helped them turn the game.

Celtics head coach Stevens said improvement defensively was key for Boston.

"I just thought we played with great tenacity defensively, and our offense followed suit," he told a news conference.

"But they're very hard. It's easy for me to sit up and say to be at our very best and get stops on every possession.

"This is a heck of an offensive team, a heck of a well-coached team and hard to guard."

Celtics star Jayson Tatum scored 17 of his 31 points in the third quarter, with Boston going on a 20-3 run.

Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra lamented his side's inability to slow the Celtics down.

"We missed some open shots to start the quarter and then those turned into run-outs that got them going, those easy ones. This is a team that has great offensive firepower," he said.

"When they see the ball go in the basket they started to get more aggressive and putting a ton of pressure on us in the paint, much like they did in Game 3 and we weren't able to shut that off, and they just carried that through."

Game 6 is on Sunday.

The Boston Celtics stayed alive in the NBA playoffs with a 121-108 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Jayson Tatum (31 points and 10 rebounds) lifted the Celtics at the Walt Disney World Resort on Friday as they reduced Miami's series lead to 3-2.

The win came after Miami made a better start, at one stage leading by as many as 12 points.

Tatum scored 17 third-quarter points as the Celtics rallied on their way to a victory that kept them alive in the playoffs.

Jaylen Brown (28 points) also starred, while Kemba Walker (15 points) and Daniel Theis (15 points and 13 rebounds) were also key contributors.

Duncan Robinson (20 points) had put Miami in position in the first half before the Celtics' fightback.

Jimmy Butler finished with 17 points, while Goran Dragic had 23 before fouling out.

Coming off his Game 4 heroics, rookie Tyler Herro managed just 14 points.

Game 6 of the series is on Sunday.

 

Nuggets face Lakers

Leading the Western Conference finals 3-1, the Los Angeles Lakers are a win away from a first NBA Finals appearance since 2010 ahead of facing the Denver Nuggets again on Saturday.

Brad Stevens has challenged the Boston Celtics to "get after it" as they bid to get back into their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Miami Heat.

Already up against a 3-1 deficit, it could be curtains for the Celtics' season on Friday when Game 5 comes around.

A regular-season record of 48-24, to Miami's 44-29, had indicated the Celtics should be competitive, while Boston also came out on top in two of their three previous clashes with the Heat in 2019-20.

Yet a 112-109 loss in Game 4 dealt a blow to hopes of reaching the championship series, with 20-year-old rookie Tyler Herro draining a career-high 37 points for Miami who are just a win away now from the NBA Finals.

"It's hard to win a playoff game, right?" head coach Stevens said.

"We're just looking at how can we play better on Friday night. That's the most important game of the season. We need to play our best game yet. That's it."

Coming from 3-1 down to win a best-of-seven series is a daunting challenge, but Stevens is not looking at the prospect of having to win three straight games.

The clear message from the coach is: one game at a time.

"I don't know what the historical odds are," he said. "It doesn't really matter. The situation we're in, we've got to play well Friday. We don't have to win three games on Friday; we have to win one.

"That's going to be our focus. That's going to be our attention. We'll get after it."

Tyler Herro saluted "big brother" Jimmy Butler after taking the Miami Heat to the brink of the NBA Finals, and took a swipe at his own doubters.

The 20-year-old Herro led scoring for the Heat with a career-high 37 points in a 112-109 win over the Boston Celtics, securing a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Now the former Kentucky Wildcats prodigy, who was the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, could cap a first season in the professional ranks with an appearance in the championship series.

He had 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting, alongside six rebounds and three assists, but the modest Herro pointed to the influence of Butler as a telling factor in his rapid rise.

"Jimmy, ever since I got here, he's been like a big brother to me and he's shined light on me. He's taught me a lot of things," Herro said.

"He's just continuing to get on me, whether it's something I want to hear or not, he's going to tell me what I need to hear. I appreciate him for that. Without Jimmy, I probably wouldn't be doing this as a rookie.

"We have a great group of guys in the locker room and everybody wants to win. I know my role. It's not to score 30, whatever I had tonight. It's not to do that every night.

"Some nights it may require me to step up like tonight and make some shots. But I know in the fourth quarter, we're going to get the ball to Jimmy; we're going to get the ball to Goran [Dragic].

"Those are our guys. We are going to run to them and they are going it make the most plays for us and they are going to win us games most of the time."

Although Herro remains deferential to such senior figures, he gives himself plenty of credit too for making it at the highest level, having been told repeatedly he lacked what it would take.

"I'm just going to bet on myself. I've been doing that my whole life," he said. "I went from a small town in Milwaukee to Kentucky, and nobody thought I would survive there and nobody thought I would survive here. At the end of the day, it's just betting on myself."

Reflecting on his time in Kentucky, he explained: "I think someone said my wingspan was too short. They say everything, but whatever they say, it's whatever."

Herro contested the suggestion he was the leading player in Wednesday night's game, pointing to the likes of Butler, Dragic and Bam Adebayo, and predicted "a dogfight" in Game 5 on Friday night.

Butler, who had 24 points and nine rebounds, continues to be impressed by his young team-mate.

"Not too many people get an opportunity to make it this far in the playoffs and to be in a game like this. But for him, it's another day at the office," Butler said.

"I think it makes all of us smile. We're all so happy for him because he knows what he's capable of, and he just plays with so much confidence.

"He's been doing it all year long. So to him, there's no pressure or anything. He's just going to keep playing basketball the right way."

Tyler Herro led the Miami Heat to a 112-109 win over the Boston Celtics and a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Herro, the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, stole the show in Game 4 of the playoff contest at Walt Disney World Resort on Wednesday.

The 20-year-old had 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting, to go with six rebounds and three assists, in an impressive performance.

Herro's career-high 37 points put Miami within a win of a first NBA Finals appearance since 2014.

As Herro led the way, Jimmy Butler (24 points and nine rebounds), Bam Adebayo (20 points and 12 rebounds) and Goran Dragic (22 points) all chipped in for Miami.

Herro's 37 points were the most by a rookie in the Conference finals or later since Magic Johnson's 42 in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, as per STATS.

In a worry for Miami, All-Star Adebayo appeared to suffer a wrist injury late in the game.

The Heat held a half-time lead for the first time in the series, although they were pulled back by Boston.

Scoreless in the first half, Celtics star Jayson Tatum erupted for 16 third-quarter points, finishing with 28 for the game.

Kemba Walker had 20 points and Jaylen Brown contributed 21, but the Celtics are staring at an Eastern Conference finals defeat.

 

Lakers face Nuggets

After the Denver Nuggets cut the Los Angeles Lakers' Western Conference finals lead to 2-1, the teams meet again on Thursday.

Marcus Smart described the Boston Celtics' argument after their Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat as "electrifying".

Smart reportedly exploded at his team-mates after the Celtics suffered a 106-101 loss to the Heat to fall 2-0 behind in the Eastern Conference finals last week.

Boston responded on Saturday, recording a 117-106 victory to cut Miami's series lead in half.

Smart said what happened in the Celtics' locker room was normal for a "family".

"Electrifying, what happened in the locker room," he told reporters on Monday.

"We're a family. Family fights all the time. I fight with my brothers all the time. But at the end of the day, we can fight with each other, nobody else can. You know, it happens between families, especially a family like ours who's been together for so long. It's going to happen.

"We've got a lot of guys who we've played with their feelings on their sleeves, play with their heart on their sleeves, play with their heart night in, night out, and we weren't supposed to be happy down 2-0, especially those two games that we gave up. We're playing a great Miami team and we can't have lapses like that.

"Of course emotions are going to fly, but like I said, we're a family and that happens."

The Celtics are aiming to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, and face Miami in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Smart said the incident in the locker room showed to him the love within the Celtics.

"I knew what type of guys we were. I knew what type of team we had. I knew we were emotional. I knew we were passionate, and I knew we all loved each other," he said.

"But I also learned a lot of – not just myself but a lot of my team-mates, we also grew up even more through that adversity.

"I've always been saying that before you see the rainbow it has to storm. For us that was a storm that we had to go through. We found our happy place. Like I said, families fight, but for us to be able to respond like we did and to be able to have that growth, it shows a lot."

Jimmy Butler lamented another slow start from the Miami Heat as the Boston Celtics held on for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Miami's lead in the series was cut to 2-1 as Boston raced out to an early lead and saw it out, with four Celtics players scoring at least 20 points.

The Heat had overturned a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to win Game 1, while they rallied from a 15-point hole in the third quarter to take Game 2, yet this time around Miami, who trailed by 20 points at one point in Game 3, were unable to muster another comeback.

"I think it gets old, playing from behind consistently," Heat swingman Butler told reporters.

"Especially against a great team like Boston and what they bring to the table."

Boston led 31-22 after the first quarter and though Miami scored 32 fourth-quarter points it was a case of too little, too late.

"We've got to start the game how we start the fourth," Miami's All-Star Bam Adebayo added.

"I feel like we're not the type of team where we can go through the motions and try and figure out everything in the first half, and then in the third or fourth, we just try to turn it on. It's not like that. We are not that type of team."

It was just Miami's second loss of this postseason and Adebayo is keen for the Heat to start hotter in Game 4 on Wednesday.

"We've got to play with detail," he said.

"I feel like we've got to work on our offense a little bit. They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping it up and having fun. I feel like that was the big difference in the game.

"They jumped out on us, and I guess they got tired of us being down 13 and coming back and winning. We've just got to do a better job of not letting ourselves get in a big deficit."

Jayson Tatum insists things are "normal" in the Boston Celtics locker room after the team recorded a pivotal Game 3 win over the Miami Heat.

Having lost second-half leads of 14 and 15 points respectively in the opening two games of the Eastern Conference finals, reports about heated disagreements between players were rife.

Coach Brad Stevens reportedly held a late-night meeting with leading Celtics players to discuss any grievances and Game 3 saw his team get back into the playoff series with a 117-106 triumph in Orlando.

With the series close again at 2-1, Tatum – who thrived with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists on Saturday – felt debate over their locker room had been overblown.

"It's been normal," he said, per ESPN. "Anybody that's played sports, played in a team game, we're not supposed to be happy being down 0-2. If you are, then you don't care. We care about this.

"Basketball is a game of emotions. So we want guys to be frustrated, be upset, to care. 

"It's nothing personal. We just have to figure some things out. It's nothing more than that.

"You're supposed to talk it out, figure it out and come together for the next game. Leave what happened in the past in the past because you can't change it."

Gordon Hayward returned after a month out with an ankle injury, registering six points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block in 31 minutes.

Discussing his return, Tatum added: "It meant everything.

"Obviously, we played a while without him. And I've said it before: crazy that anyone would think we're better without him. 

"We're so much better when he's out there and so much more dynamic, so much more versatile when he's out there.

"It felt great to have the full team back. He played great in his first game, and he's going to continue to get better, get his feel back. So to have him back is everything."

Four Celtics players topped 20 points, with Jaylen Brown, who echoed Tatum's comments on team cohesion, leading the way with 26, plus seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.

"There's some great guys in that locker room," said Brown. 

"A lot of emotion, a lot of passion, but we're a family and we're here for each other at the end of the day. We exemplified that when we came out together. We stayed together during some tough moments.

"But we didn't hang our head. We kept our will high and persevered to win this game."

Kemba Walker (21 points) and Marcus Smart (20 points) also had productive outings and the teams will now rest during a brief break in this series until Game 4 on Wednesday.

The Boston Celtics responded in the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat with a 117-106 win in Game 3 on Saturday.

Trailing 2-0 after giving up big leads in the opening two games, the Celtics bounced back at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Celtics star Jayson Tatum led the way with a double-double of 25 points and 14 rebounds, plus eight assists, as Boston reduced Miami's series lead to 2-1.

Jaylen Brown finished with 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting, while Kemba Walker contributed 21 points and Marcus Smart poured in 20.

In another boost for Boston, Gordon Hayward made his return from an ankle injury in his first appearance since August 17.

He contributed six points in more than 30 minutes off the bench.

Bam Adebayo again starred for Miami with 27 points and 16 rebounds, while Tyler Herro impressed off the bench with 22 points.

But Miami never led in Game 3 and were unable to produce another comeback after trailing by 13 points at half-time.

Boston pushed out to a 20-point lead during the fourth quarter before Miami rallied, but the Heat fell short.

 

Nuggets face Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers will look to go 2-0 up in the Western Conference finals when they take on the Denver Nuggets again on Sunday.

Jaylen Brown revealed emotions were running high in the locker room after the Boston Celtics fell 2-0 down in their Eastern Conference finals series against the Miami Heat.

The Celtics squandered a half-time lead once again as they were beaten 106-101 at Walt Disney World Resort on Thursday.

The Heat trailed by 17 points in the second quarter and were down by 13 at the midway point but overcame the deficit to seize control against the Celtics thanks to Bam Adebayo, who added 15 third-quarter points.

Brown conceded the Celtics had taken the result hard, amid reports guard Marcus Smart had been seen storming out of the locker room.


"It's really just a lot of emotions just flying around," Brown said, per ESPN.

"Obviously we feel like we could have won, we should have won, but we didn't. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That's it."

Speaking about the challenge that now faces the Celtics to turn the series around, he added: "We just got to be sound, execute and stay together. That's it. We feel confident about our abilities, we feel confident about our game plan.

"We just haven't executed it to the extent that we know we can. Two games, we came up short towards the end of the game, and we're looking forward to Game 3. We've gotta find a way to win.

"We just haven't played a full 48 minutes of being locked in and executing the game plan. I feel like maybe about 75 per cent, we played really well.

"It's always one quarter or one sequence of events where we have lapses, and against this team, we can't have those.

"If we take that away, we'll win."

Kemba Walker posted 23 points for the Celtics, who had a chance to tie the game with 15 seconds remaining but Brown missed a three-pointer as Jimmy Butler sealed Miami's victory via a pair of free throws.

However, Walker dismissed the idea that it had been a close-run contest.

"Man, they outplayed us," he said. "They outplayed us. It's really unacceptable on our behalf. It was just a really bad quarter for us.

"We didn't continue to do the things that we did to get us up and get us that lead. I think we got kind of comfortable, and those guys, they took great advantage of it.

"They played hard. They played really hard. They played a lot harder than us. They wanted it."

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