Bam Adebayo was missing in action in the first two games of the NBA’s eastern conference finals.
A bit of soul-searching and an upgrade in aggressiveness made a huge difference in Game 3 as the Miami Heat centre played one of the best games of his five-year career.
Adebayo exploded for 31 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals to lead the Heat to a 109-103 victory over the host Boston Celtics, stepping up as superstar teammate Jimmy Butler struggled then sat out the second half with knee inflammation.
“I had to pick up my weight,” Adebayo said after the Heat took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series in Boston on Saturday night.
“These last couple games, my team was depending on me and I didn’t show up. I took it upon myself to lock in and get the win.”
Adebayo made 15 of 22 field-goal attempts after taking just 10 total shots over the first two games. He had scored 10 points in Miami’s Game 1 win and just six in its Game 2 loss.
“He’s a winning player,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Adebayo. “He really is the heart and soul of our group. You can count on him all the time. He doesn’t get caught up in all the noise. He’s just out there competing and playing winning basketball, doing it on both ends.”
Adebayo’s stellar performance was much-needed with Butler scoring just eight points in 20 minutes before leaving the game.
Spoelstra said he didn’t have an update but did indicate Butler won’t need to undergo an MRI exam.
Jaylen Brown set a personal playoff high with 40 points and also collected nine rebounds for the Celtics, who committed 24 turnovers. Al Horford added 20 points and 14 rebounds but Jayson Tatum had just 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting and committed six turnovers.
“Unacceptable. I’ve got to play better,” Tatum said of his performance. “I feel like I left the guys hanging tonight. That’s on me.”
Game 4 is Monday night in Boston.
The Celtics never led on Saturday and trailed by as many as 26 points early in the second quarter.
Still, they had a chance to post a comeback victory before the Heat held them off down the stretch.
Miami led 87-72 after three quarters and made it a 17-point game on Adebayo’s basket to start the fourth. But the Celtics ran off the next nine points to get within single digits
Trailing 93-80, the Celtics scored 12 straight points -10 by Brown – to set up a gripping finish.
Kyle Lowry returned from a hamstring injury and recorded 11 points, six assists and four steals for the Heat. Miami had 19 steals overall.
Marcus Smart had 16 points and seven assists for Boston despite briefly leaving the game in the third quarter with a sprained right ankle.