Celtics hold on after hot start in Game 3 for first win over Heat in Eastern Conference finals

It took a pair of losses and a lot of frustration boiling over, but something finally clicked for the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.

After falling into a 2-0 hole, the Celtics grabbed a dominant 117-106 win over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at Walt Disney World.

“This is a really special group, a really good group,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, via Ben Golliver of the Washington Post. “The first time we were pushed to more emotions that challenged us, we got better. That’s encouraging.”

Celtics survive late push after dominant start

Boston, after entering halftime with a 13-point lead, quickly pushed their lead to 19 in the third quarter. Though the Heat cut the game back to single digits late in the period, Boston ended the quarter on a quick 7-3 run before knocking down a pair of 3-pointers to start the fourth to instantly regain full control.

Miami made its move with just more than four minutes remaining, however. The Heat kicked off a 16-5 run — behind seven quick points from Duncan Robinson, who drew a flagrant foul on Jaylen Brown — to cut the game to just five points with less than a minute left.

By then, though, it was too late. Marcus Smart sank four free throws down the stretch to fend off the run and lead the Celtics to the 11-point win, their first of the series.

“We have to finish games better,” said Jaylen Brown, who led the Celtics with 26 points, via Keith Smith. “We didn’t finish the game as good as we would have liked, but we played some good basketball today.”

Jayson Tatum added 25 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in the win. Smart finished with 20 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter.

Gordon Hayward returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series last month, too. He finished with six points in 30 minutes off the bench.

Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 27 points and 16 rebounds. Tyler Herro added 22 points off the bench, and Jimmy Butler finished with 17 points. They shot just 27 percent from behind the arc as a team in the loss — which marked just their second defeat so far in the playoffs.

“They came out, Boston did, with great force in this game, and you do have to credit them for that,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said, via Fox Sports Florida. “They sustained it for the better majority of the game. We were on our heels most of the game ... They were playing with great force.”

Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics
The Celtics flew to a dominant win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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