MIAMI — Throughout the Miami Heat’s up-and-down season, Jimmy Butler has remained steadfast in his confident approach. And after squandering a chance to close out this Eastern Conference finals series at home against the Boston Celtics, that did not change.
“The only thing I’m going to say is, We’ll be OK,” Butler said Tuesday night. “Let’s get back to doing what we’ve always done to get us to this point. Continually have belief in one another, knowing that we are going to win, and we will. We’ve just got to play harder.
“There’s not too much to say with this group because we already know. So we’ve just got to go out there and execute.”
The Heat lost Game 4, 116-99, at Kaseya Center. Despite the letdown, it’s hard to say the Heat didn’t execute. If anything, the Celtics finally did after three listless performances to start the series.
After a rough start, Jayson Tatum has his best game of the conference finals. He turned the ball over three times in the first quarter but bounced back to finish with 34 points on 14 of 22 shooting, 11 rebounds and seven assists, showing the resolve and late-game scoring that had eluded him the first three games.
Led by Tatum (5 of 9 from 3-point range), Al Horford (3 of 6) and Grant Williams (4 of 6), the Celtics made 19 of their 45 3-pointers (42.2%) — making more than 11 3s and converting on better than a 35% clip for the first time this series.
Meanwhile, the Heat shot 8 for 32 (25%) from distance, getting outscored by a total of 33 from beyond the arc, and managed to outscore the Celtics by just six in the paint. Not a winning formula. They also lost the turnover battle (16 to 10), which led to 27 more points for Boston.
For his part, Butler finished with 29 points on 9 of 21 shooting, including a 15-point spurt in the final six minutes of the third quarter. But that came after the Heat gave up a 16-0 run to the Celtics that turned what had been a nine-point lead into a 10-point deficit.
“They knock down some threes and it just, you know,” Spoelstra said snapping his fingers, “they got the two-point lead just like that. Then from that point they mostly had control of that second half.”
Entering Tuesday night, the Heat had been among the best second-half teams in the playoffs, routinely playing their best in crunch time while their opponents shrank. But here, the Celtics put their imprint on the game by pushing the tempo, taking shots with confidence and outscoring the Heat 66-43 in the second half.
The Heat have flipped double-digit deficits into wins in these playoffs, but for one of the few times this postseason Butler looked something other than superhuman down the stretch. In the fourth quarter, Grant Williams blocked his shot and he missed a pair of layups.
“Their backs are against the wall, so they are going to play desperate,” said Bam Adebayo, who finished with 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting and five rebounds. “They are going to try to figure out ways to disrupt our game flow. But the biggest thing about us, we know we’ve got to retaliate.”
To do that, the Heat need a more consistent scoring effort from Butler, more assertiveness from Adebayo and for their shooters — Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, who combined to go 4 of 18 from 3-point range — to make shots as they had for most of the series.
Teams with a 3-0 lead in the series are 149-0 in playoff history. The Heat just need to win one more game while the Celtics still must win the next three. Odds are that the Heat will advance, but it won’t be easy. The Celtics were the No. 2 seed for a reason, and the Heat’s greatest advantage until Tuesday night had been their mental toughness. Let Boston get on a roll, and the feel for this series could change in a hurry.
In the locker room after the game, Butler did not seem worried. He sat at his stall, sang along with his music until approaching the podium, still humming a tune.
“Stay consistent,” Butler said when asked how he can maintain the mental edge in the series. “Do the same thing that we do after every game. We are going to listen to some music. We’re going to drink some beers back there. We are going to go have some wine.
“We’re going to be in this thing together like we always are, and we are going to go get one on the road.”