On Monday, they decided the didn’t want to go down like this, an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Miami Heat loomed that would send their core and coach’s viability into doubt. They grew disconnected, several players agreed. So they looked each other in the eye in an undisclosed location and talked it out.
By the fourth quarter in Tuesday’s Game 4, the Heat looked vulnerable too. The shooting shut off, Miami’s fading to 35% after halftime. Gabe Vincent hobbled off the court and tried to stay in the game late in the fourth quarter, stepped back on and tried to defend Jayson Tatum, who pulled up over him for a three that pushed Boston ahead by 19 points.
“I just wanted make sure we got a good shot on that,” Mazzulla. “I felt like the possessions before that didn’t go well defensively. We were still playing with a good sense of pace, but we obviously lost the advantage and I just wanted to reset a little bit. We had lost a 50-50 ball to start the quarter that I think we just kind of had to nip that in the bud.”
Mazzulla told the players they couldn’t lose that 50-50 ball they did several plays prior, which Jimmy Butler narrowly avoided putting back before his layup rolled into Bam Adebayo’s hands, who dished to Max Strus, whom Tatum blocked before watching the ball bounce back into Strus’ hands for three. Tatum’s head sunk.
The lesson came at a rare moment from Mazzulla. Before Kevin Love’s trap on Brown in the corner led to something bad. Marcus Smart drove and hit Al Horford on a kick-0ut, who found Derrick White for three to tie the game at 61. Smart later said the Celtics brought physicality to Miami rather than guarding on their heel.
“It just got us composed, it looked like, potentially, we was in a bad spot,” Brown said. “He called a timeout. I thought that was a good decision.”
The Celtics shot 14-for-23, nailing seven threes in a season-saving quarter while the Heat cooled off to 8-for-22, shooting only 2-for-8 from three. Horford smacked the ball away from Strus to kick-start the run on the other end and Brown cut off a Butler pass to produce a breakout Brown score and a Tatum floater. Tatum found Smart for three, forcing Spoelstra to call one of a string of Heat second half timeouts that didn’t help Miami as much.
Shooting energized the Celtics. But Tatum talked to Smart, Brown and Robert Williams III in a small huddle after Mazzulla’s timeout in a manner not visible earlier in the series. Then they stood, arms outstretched the way Tatum had demonstrated defense — inspiring the Celtics to do the same.
“He was just letting guys know, ‘we here. Just keep going. It’s not gonna be easy, but we’re gonna win this game,’” Smart said. “We just gotta keep playing the right way. Then, he came out and led by example. He got the block, he’s helping, he’s getting rebounds and he’s making his shots, making the right plays. When you got a guy like Jayson, and Jaylen, who are leading the way like that, by example, everybody else falls in line.”
Game 3 style Celtics mistakes kept the Heat ahead into halftime and in play after, a late Brown rotation on Zeller slipping inside forcing Horford to have a quick word with him. Tatum tossed Zeller away him with a stiff arm, then nobody picked up Jimmy Butler into the half court on the other end as he drove into a foul. He made up for it with a 20-foot leaner over Caleb Martin, an easy transition finish and a steal to set up Grant Williams for three on the run while Butler scored 10 straight points to keep Miami within nine.
Tatum sat as the lead grew thinner, but the Celtics communicated, Williams and White showing two while Bam Adebayo rolled into Horford and forced him to take a fourth foul. White checked in with Mazzulla along the sideline and blocked Duncan Robinson on the next defensive stand to send Brown running for a dunk. The Heat called timeout again, setting up a play where Butler isolated Williams, who sent his shot backward. After their Game 2 feud, Williams refused to poke the bear.
Tatum has put up some huge games when the Celtics have faced elimination over the past two playoffs. His 51-point game against the 76ers in Game 7 sticks out immediately. The C’s also needed every bit of his 46 points against the Bucks last season in Game 6, a road win in Milwaukee. Even the Game 6 against the Sixers, Tatum shrugged off a nightmare game to knock down multiple 3-pointers down the stretch for the win.
It’s been a brutal East Finals for the Celtics thus far as they dropped the first three games of the series. Tatum has scored 30-plus points in three of the four games, but the wins haven’t been there. But at the very least, the Celtics forced a Game 5 back at TD Garden. The road to the NBA Finals is still improbable, yet the C’s have at least given themselves a chance. And Tatum is a huge reason why.
“We just have to regroup,” Tatum said. “That’s what we did. It could have went either way. We could have separated or brought us together, and we settled in, and we just started making plays. Obviously, shots were falling, things like that, but I think we were just playing the right way. We was getting stops, we was moving the ball. We played well.”
Fleer also took his case to Twitter, explaining that “the six (City) teams ending their seasons by playing Division I tournament games lost to OCC, CCL and LCL schools by a combined 103-2.
“Most were no-hit. Why do our kids have to end their seasons like this?” he posted. “Who knows? Maybe we start this in Columbus, and other inner-city districts like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, etc. get on board and it eventually forms into a state tournament. I think that would be fun for our guys to even the scales.”
Liberty football coach Steve Hale honored
It’s always good when the good guys get recognized for being good guys. Steve Hale, who recently decided to change careers after spending 20 years as Olentangy Liberty’s football coach, has been recognized by his peers with the 2022 Ohio High School Athletic Association Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award.
The award, voted on by the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association, applauds a coach’s values and how he rates as a role model for his players.
“Hopefully, at Liberty we’re known for that a little bit,” said Hale, who emphasized team building with the Patriots. “It wasn’t just me but also my coaching staff, players and the families we had at Liberty. The success we had stems from the success of the adults and parents, and to represent something like that, it’s very flattering and humbling.”
No Michael Block at the Memorial Tournament
Timing is everything, unfortunately for the Memorial Tournament, which just missed out on catching the wave of interest in Michael Block, the California club pro who stole the show at last week’s PGA Championship by making a hole-in-one and finishing tied for 15th.
The Memorial, held June 1-4 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, sent out its sponsor invitations, and had them accepted, weeks before Block became an overnight sensation.
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