Celtics pick up much-needed win in Game 3
Boston picked up its first win in the Eastern Conference Finals Saturday night, with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum leading the way offensively and Gordon Hayward making his long-awaited return. In addition to a balanced offensive attack the Celtics also benefitted from Marcus Smart‘s defense, as he shut down Goran Dragic. Below is a look at the injury report for Sunday’s game between the Lakers and Nuggets, and a recap of how Boston beat Miami.
— LeBron, Rondo listed as probable for Game 2
The Lakers listed three players on the team’s injury report ahead of Sunday’s Game 2 against Denver, with it being likely that LeBron James and Rajon Rondo will be able to play. Both are listed as probable, with James still dealing with the right groin injury and Rondo back spasms. In the case of the former he rolled his left ankle during the first half of Game 1 but remained in the game after tightening his shoelaces, and according to multiple reports he had no issues during Saturday’s practice. Look for James and Rondo to fill their usual roles Sunday night. The news wasn’t as good for Dion Waiters, who is once again listed as doubtful due to a sore left groin. Even if cleared Waiters really isn’t a rotation player at this point, so don’t expect much from him.
Denver’s injury report remains unchanged, with Will Barton (right knee) and Vlatko Cancar (left foot) once again ruled out. A healthy Barton would certainly help the Nuggets, but it was reported on Thursday that he was seeking a second opinion on the knee. There is still no timetable regarding a possible return to action for Barton, as he remains outside of the Orlando bubble. With that being the case he would have to go through a quarantine period before having the opportunity to rejoin his teammates, so his season is likely over.
Celtics 117, Heat 106 (Miami leads, 2-1)
After blowing leads in each of the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics were in need of a momentum boost. And they received one in the form of Gordon Hayward, who saw his first game action since spraining his right ankle in the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ first game of the postseason. He wasn’t on a minutes restriction Saturday night, and after a four-minute stint in the first quarter he appeared to get his groove back. By the end of the night Hayward played 31 minutes off the bench, and while he scored six points on 2-of-7 shooting from the field the contributions made in other areas helped Boston pick up its first win of the series.
In addition to those six points Hayward accounted for five rebounds, four assists, three steals, one blocked shot and one 3-pointer, and his return proved beneficial on both ends of the floor.
Offensively Hayward gives Boston another capable catch-and-shoot option with size who can also create for himself or for others, making life more difficult for the Heat when they go to the zone defense that slowed Boston down in the first two games. Defensively there were brief periods Saturday night in which Hayward was the tallest Celtic on the court, with Boston seemingly accepting that Bam Adebayo (27 points, 16 rebounds, one assist, three steals and two blocks) was going to get his but resolving to slow down Miami’s top perimeter scorers.
Also worth noting in Hayward’s return is that he now plans to remain with the team throughout the remainder of its playoff run. Originally he was going to leave the bubble when his wife went into labor with the couple’s fourth child, but things have changed as he did some of his early rehab at home.
With Hayward back in the rotation Boston’s other reserves were the biggest losers, with Brad Wanamaker playing just nine minutes after getting 24 in Game 2 and Semi Ojeleye receiving the dreaded DNP-CD. Grant Williams (five points, one rebound, one steal and one 3-pointer) played nine minutes and Enes Kanter (four points, four rebounds) six, getting the majority of their minutes as a result of starting center Daniel Theis being slowed by foul trouble. Williams may be able to carve out a greater role for himself next season, but I don’t expect it to be enough make him a draftable option in standard leagues. However, continued progress as a perimeter shooter could change that.
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Jaylen Brown (26/7/5/3/1 with one 3-pointer), Jayson Tatum (25/14/8 with two 3-pointers), Kemba Walker (21/6/2 with four 3-pointers) and Marcus Smart (20/4/6) all scored at least 20 points on the night to lead the way offensively for Boston. Tatum now has 24 postseason games of 20 points or more to his credit, third-most in NBA history for players aged 23 years or younger. The two players ahead of him on the list: Kobe Bryant (32 games) and LeBron (29).
Moving over to the Heat, Goran Dragic (11 points, one rebound, five assists and one 3-pointer) shot just 2-of-10 from the field with Smart serving as the primary defender. Boston was unable to slow Dragic down in the first two games, hence the decision to go with Smart. Duncan Robinson, who was Marcus’ matchup in the first two games, shot 4-of-8 from three and finished with 13 points, one rebound and two assists in 28 minutes.
Tyler Herro, who will be a solid fantasy option next season, played 36 minutes off the bench and tallied 22 points, three rebounds, four assists, one steal and four 3-pointers. Just how valuable he is in standard formats will be determined largely by what happens with Dragic, who will be an unrestricted free agent. It’s clear that the Heat trust Herro, who’s been given the nickname of “Baby Goat.”
Jimmy Butler (17/8/3/2 blocks) and Jae Crowder (10/6/5/1/1 with two 3-pointers) scored in double figures, but the former was nowhere near as influential on the action as he was in Games 1 and 2. As a matter of fact Butler was on the bench late in the fourth quarter as the Heat looked to mount a rally. Following the game Erik Spoelstra said that he wanted more speed on the court, hence his decision to not use Butler. He’s healthy and should take on his usual workload in Wednesday’s Game 4, unless the game requires Spoelstra to go with a different look.