BOSTON — The Miami Heat took their Game 2 loss to the Boston Celtics personally.
That was the message coming out of a proud Heat locker room after a gutsy 109-103 win on Saturday night that gave them a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
After getting embarrassed throughout a lackluster Game 2 performance in which the group never found its rhythm on either end of the floor, the Heat started Saturday’s game with the type of edge on both sides of the floor that has defined their season.
“They beat us like we stole something in Game 2,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “So that woke a fire up in all of us.”
After struggling to find a groove over the first two games of the series, Adebayo played one of the best games in his career in Game 3 while racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and a block in 42 minutes while shooting 15-for-22 from the floor.
That Adebayo was able to lead the Heat to the win even after star swingman Jimmy Butler had to leave the game at halftime because of right knee inflammation made it even more impressive.
Butler has been dealing with the same issue since first injuring the knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Atlanta Hawks and missing the series-clinching Game 5. After sitting out the entire second half on Saturday, he was seen greeting teammates in the locker room as they made their way off the TD Garden floor.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Butler would not need another MRI on the knee, but his status for Game 4 on Monday night remains unclear.
“He didn’t have his, like, normal explosive burst,” Spoelstra said of Butler. “He’s been able to manage this. I think the next two days will be really important, obviously.
“At halftime, really, the trainers made the call. Just feel like we’ve been in this situation a lot with a few of our guys. We almost have to restrain them. We get it and we love it about them, how they are wired. But we also don’t want to be irresponsible.”
As has become custom throughout Spoelstra’s time in Miami, the rest of the Heat roster was able to step up and pick up the slack. Kyle Lowry, who hadn’t played since reinjuring his left hamstring in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers on May 8, chipped in with 11 points and six assists while providing a steady veteran presence on the defensive end.
“Something about this team is just that we have guys that are hard workers,” Lowry said. “Udonis [Haslem] always says we all got it the hard way, all of us. A lot of undrafted guys, a lot of lower-round-pick guys, second-round guys. We all found ways to make this our living and found ways to do our job at a high level and to be here and to stay. That’s big for us.”
A former G League player who made a huge difference on Saturday was Max Strus. The 25-year-old guard hit the biggest shot of the night when he nailed a 3-pointer with 2:16 left in the game that gave the Heat, who had been clinging to a 93-92 lead, the dagger they needed to close out the Celtics.
As Strus explained, it was actually Lowry who set up the final sequence.
“In the timeout, Kyle said, let’s run a pindown for Max,” Strus said. “Let’s get him open. So when he said that, I had all the confidence in the world to step up and make a shot.”
The Heat still have all the confidence that they can find a way to win this series, even as Butler and guard Tyler Herro, who is dealing with what appears to be a quad injury, try to find their way back to the floor for Game 4.
The Heat walked out of TD Garden beaming because they knew they had found a way under adverse circumstances and delivered the Celtics the kind of blow that many weren’t expecting after such a demolition by Boston in Game 2.
“They were just like a wounded animal,” Celtics big man Al Horford said. “They came out fighting. For whatever reason, we just didn’t have that same sense of urgency.”
Now, as the Heat wait to see how Butler’s knee responds to treatment, they do so knowing that they will head back to Miami with at worst a 2-2 tie in the series.
“No matter what happens, at the end of the day, if you put your heart out there and play hard, you’ve got to be happy and just live with the results,” Lowry said. “And that’s what we do.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report
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