HUGE leads. Lengthy scoring droughts. Blowouts. The Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and Celtics are as close as can be — heading back to Miami all tied up at two wins apiece.
But the individual games have been anything but.
Boston scored 18 of the first 19 points on Monday night on the way to a 102-82 victory in Game 4 of the best-of-seven series. The Celtics led by as many as 32 in the third quarter — a big gap, even for a series that has been full of them.
“Sometimes when you have two really competitive teams, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a one-point game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It means that it can be flammable, either way. Both teams are ignitable.” And they seem to be taking turns catching fire: The team that has gotten blown out has won the next game each time.
“Whatever they have done to us, we can do to them,” Spoelstra said. “None of us are happy about what happened tonight. This is part of the playoffs. There are these extreme highs and lows, particularly when you have two teams that are pretty closely, evenly matched.”
The series now shifts to Miami for Game 5 on Wednesday, with Boston guaranteed another game at home on Friday. The Heat would host the decisive seventh game on Sunday, if necessary.
“I think human nature plays a part in, when you win a game, you can relax a little bit,” said Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who had 31 points in Game 4 after scoring 10 on 3-for-14 shooting the previous game. “Obviously, when we lose a game, we feel like the next game is do or die, and then we come out and play like we did.
“I think we have to have that mindset going into Game 5 — that it is a must-win game, because tonight was essentially something like that,” he said. “Everybody knew it. We could all feel it. I think that showed in the way we came out.”
It was the fourth straight game that has featured a 20-point lead, with two of them topping 30. There have been four lead changes in the entire series — just one in the second half, and none in the fourth quarter.
“It’s wild, right,” said Miami guard Victor Oladipo, who came off the bench to score the Heat’s first basket more than eight minutes into the first quarter after they were already trailing 18-1. “I’m not even sure how to explain it."
THE Heat left Jayson Tatum lying on the court with a pain in his neck in the closing minutes of Game 3. The Celtics All-Star did his part to make sure the Heat were hurting after Game 4.
Tatum scored 31 points and Boston took its turn pounding Miami early, jumping out to a 26-4 lead and cruising to a 102-82 victory.
“Obviously, we knew how important this game was,” Tatum said. “Everybody just had to come up with a different sense of urgency.”
Miami missed 15 of its first 16 shots as this bizarre series produced another game that was all but over after 12 minutes. The Heat led 39-18 after the first quarter of Game 3.
Boston improved to 5-0 this postseason following a loss. Coach Ime Udoka said the challenge is finding more consistency.
“Just got to muster that same energy when we came off a win as well as a loss,” Udoka said. “This is a three-game series now. Can’t always just flip the mindset when we come off a loss and get a little desperate.”
The Heat were without Tyler Herro, who suffered a groin injury late in Game 3.
Butler was in the starting lineup after missing the second half of Game 3 with swelling in his right knee. Lowry (strained left hamstring), Strus (strained hamstring) and Tucker (left knee irritation) all tested their injuries pregame before being cleared to go.
“It’s a part of playoffs. You learn to adapt,” Adebayo said. “Guys being out, guys playing half, guys playing 20 minutes in the game, just depends. You’ve just got to find a way to win.”
Boston’s Williams returned after missing a game with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee.
Even with their banged-up roster, the Celtics enjoyed their fastest start of the series. Starting in place of Smart, White scored the game’s first seven points as Boston took an 8-0 lead.
It quickly grew to 18-1, with Miami misfiring on its first 14 shots. The Heat didn’t get their first points until Adebayo’s free throw at the 7:56 mark. Miami made its first field goal at 3:22, a 3-pointer by Oladipo, and finished the quarter 3 for 20.
The Celtics took a 29-11 lead into the second quarter and led 57-33 at the half.
Game 5 is Wednesday in Miami.