Boston Celtics

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 19: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics reacts with Kemba Walker #8 of the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 19, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

By Ty Anderson,

If what happened after Game 2 happened to the 2019 Celtics, with a postgame argument making its way to the media, and with a team meeting added to the schedule as a result, nothing changes.

If anything, the Heat successfully overcome a 20-point deficit in Game 3, Kyrie Irving says something about how this loss doesn’t actually matter because Mercury is in retrograde or because the Internet isn’t real, and everybody else remains stewing in pure rage.

Whether or not what actually happened in the C’s locker room after their Game 2 collapse was overblown or not, there’s no doubt that it would’ve been undoing a year ago. But this year, and with this group? It was instead properly channeled into an approach and 48-minute assault that had the Miami Heat absolutely overwhelmed.

“They came out with great force in this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Boston’s Game 3 effort. “We were on our heels most of the game, flattening us out with our execution, getting us into the end of the clock on too many possessions.”

To Spoelstra’s point, this was a wire-to-wire bullying from the Green. In every sense of the word.

After two games that saw the Celtics look like they were waiting for someone else to win the game for them, the Celtics stormed the basket. It added up to a staggering 60 points in the paint compared to 36 by the Heat. The Celtics also won the rebound battle 59-to-47, and took care of the ball infinitely better than they did a game ago, losing the turnover battle by just one and not by 11 like Game 2.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 19: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics and Kemba Walker #8 of the Boston Celtics react after their win over Miami Heat in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 19, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“We could have come here and laid down [or] we could have played like we were fighting for our lives,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said after the victory. “It wasn’t perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. But just playing connected, playing together with a purpose, like we did, it gives ourselves a chance. That’s all you want is just to be able to give yourself a chance.”

And that willingness to battle for their playoff lives — and with this team still looking to get over that third-round hump and advance to their first Finals in the Brad Stevens Era — that made the difference.

Held to the perimeter and often left to opt for horrendous, clock-draining, low-percentage looks in Game 2, the Celtics decided to break through the Heat’s layers and force them to meet ’em at the rim. The Heat were not willing to sign up for such punishment. Not for a full 48, anyway.

“It was more about, like, what are we going to show ourselves to be?” Stevens said of the team’s talks between Games 2 and 3. “And I thought that we are a really special group, a really good group. And the first time we were pushed to more emotions that challenged us we got better.”

It’s as if something clicked and the Celtics realized their noticeable advantages — size, experience, know-how — over the Duncan Robinsons and Tyler Herros of the Heat. Jaylen Brown (a team-high 26 points) definitely did. That Marcus Smart can be a difficult matchup for Goran Dragic. (Not sure Smart has to bloody him every night, but they’ll take the statement of it.) That this Celtic core’s culture and identity was potentially on the line in this game.

And perhaps most importantly, and telling when it comes to this team’s aspirations, that this team’s version of ‘fighting’ was centered around meeting team goals, not future paydays and accolades.

“To be honest, I didn’t get much sleep the last 48 hours,” Brown, who easily could’ve complained about his limited usage in the first two games of this series, admitted. “I was so antsy to get back and play basketball. I don’t think the last two games exemplify what this team is about. So, I couldn’t wait to come out and be the best version of myself and try to add to a win. And I’m glad to be a part of this team and this organization and I’m proud of how we responded.

“A lot of emotion, a lot of passion. But we’re a family. We are here for each other at the end of the day. So we exemplified that when we came out together. We stayed together during some tough moments. We didn’t hang our head, we kept our will high and we persevered to win this game.”

“It’s who you have in the locker room and are they committed to each other,” Stevens noted. “Everybody gets pushed to emotions in sports. That’s why I was curious to see what would happen, but I didn’t have much doubt.

“I think this group has some good character.”

Character that was challenged by one another, and one they all answered with thunderous force.

“We ain’t got to win all of them at once,” said Tatum. “We just got to win one game at a time.”

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.