ORLANDO • Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens could not be prouder of his players after they erased a half-time deficit with a Jayson Tatum-led third-quarter surge on Friday, staying alive in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 121-108 victory over the Miami Heat.
“We’re prideful,” he told ESPN after the Celtics fought back to make it 3-2 in the best-of-seven National Basketball Association (NBA) series.
“Our deal was to come out and play, come out and compete, give it our best shot and I thought we played pretty well in the second half.”
Tatum finished with a game-high 31 points, including 17 in the third quarter, when the third-seeded Celtics erupted for 41 points after just 51 in the first half.
The Celtics trailed by as many as 12 points in each of the first two periods and 58-51 at half-time, but then took less than four minutes of the third quarter to level the score after a basket from Miami’s Bam Adebayo had extended the margin to nine on the second half’s first possession.
“We knew we had to play better. We were fighting for our life,” said Tatum. “It was going to take a collective effort in the second half, and that’s what we did.
“Being down 3-1 is not fun. We’ve got to take it one game at a time.”
Jaylen Brown (28 points) and Daniel Theis (15) had hoops and Kemba Walker (15) two free throws before Marcus Smart’s (12) three-pointer drew the Celtics even at 60-60.
Brown added a go-ahead basket 24 seconds later and, when Tatum dropped in two free throws, Boston had used a 13-0 flurry to take a lead they never relinquished at 64-60.
Tatum added 15 more points in the period, six on two three-pointers, helping the Celtics go up by as many as 14 points at 92-78.
Miami hung within 97-89 with 8min 55sec to play, but Brown slammed the door with consecutive three-pointers, allowing the Celtics to coast home with their second win in the last three games.
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
We knew we had to play better. We were fighting for our life. It was going to take a collective effort in the second half, and that’s what we did.
JAYSON TATUM , Boston Celtics’ forward, on his team’s second-half surge. They trailed at half-time but won 121-108.
The win sends the clubs to a Game 6 tonight, with the fifth-seeded Heat needing just one more win to advance to their first NBA Finals since 2014.
The Celtics are attempting to overcome a 3-1 series deficit for the first time since eliminating Philadelphia in the 1981 Eastern Finals en route to the NBA championship.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra admitted defeat, saying that the Celtics “played great in the second half”.
“They deserved and earned what they got. We understand how tough it is to win in the play-offs,” he added. “We did not compete hard enough defensively, and we paid the price for that.”
Goran Dragic had a team-high 23 points for the Heat while Duncan Robinson had 20.
Jimmy Butler (17 points), Jae Crowder (14), Tyler Herro (14) and Adebayo (13) also scored in double figures.
The winners of the series take on either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Denver Nuggets for the NBA title in the quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.
The Lakers lead the Nuggets 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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