BOSTON -- The Celtics have done a lot of things right in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
They shot 50 percent from 3-point range in Game 2 to roll to a 25-point rout on the road. They cut a 26-point deficit to one point during a huge comeback in Saturday's Game 3 at TD Garden.
They've matched or outscored the Heat in 10 of the 12 quarters of this series to date. And yet they ended Saturday night trailing 2-1 in the series -- and there appears to be a primary culprit.
"It’s happened to us a couple times this playoff run: We’ll continue to fight, and every time we put ourselves in a position, we turn the ball over," Celtics big man Al Horford lamented after Boston's 109-103 loss.
The C's committed a whopping 23 turnovers in Game 3, their most in a game since an Oct. 22 loss to the Toronto Raptors. The Heat scored 33 points off those 23 turnovers, repeatedly burning Boston for being careless with the basketball.
Saturday's poor showing came less than a week after Boston committed 16 turnovers in Game 1, including eight in the third quarter that sparked a 22-2 Heat run. Miami outscored the Celtics 39-14 in that third quarter to take the series opener despite the C's having the advantage in the other three frames.
A similar show unfolded Saturday night, with Boston committing five turnovers while making just five shots in the first quarter to fall into a 21-point hole.
"(We understood) how they were going to guard guys and be physical, and we didn't match that from the start," Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said. "It looked like we were kind of wilting to the pressure and kind of complaining to the refs and it took us out of the game from the start."
The Heat are an excellent defensive team that has forced 15.9 points per game in the postseason, the most of any team outside the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies. They've been in the airspace of Boston's ball-handlers all series, particularly frustrating Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who committed six turnovers Saturday to bring his total to 16 through three games.
"They're a really scrappy defensive team, but a lot of those were careless turnovers as well," Tatum said. " ... Six turnovers and no field goals in the second half. That is unacceptable. I have to play better. I feel like I left the guys hanging tonight. That's on me."
Tatum is hardly the lone culprit. Jaylen Brown went off for a game-high 40 points but committed a game-high seven turnovers, while Marcus Smart and Al Horford added four and three turnovers, respectively.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the Celtics have excelled in pretty much every other area against Miami and arguably could be up 3-0 in the series with better ball-handling. They committed just nine turnovers in Game 2, and the result was a 25-point rout.
Miami thrives on using its disruptive defense to create offense, so limiting the turnovers is easier said than done for Boston. If the C's can figure out how to take better care of the ball, though, there's a realistic path to a comeback, starting with Game 4 on Monday night.