Heading into this two-game series with the Miami Heat, the Celtics had a chance to make up some serious ground, and position themselves for a real run at the Eastern Conference sixth seed, avoiding the play-in tournament. After being swept, an appearance in the play-in seems to be all but curtain.
In the second half of the back-to-back against Miami on Tuesday night, the Celtics kept things closer than the first game, but were unable to come away with a win, falling 129-121.
Coming out with a stronger effort than they showed on Sunday, the Celtics took a small but early lead. They got up by as many as six points, but the Heat would fight back as the teams passed the lead back and forth for the final few minutes of the first quarter. After 12 minutes, the game was tied at 28.
The lead changed hands five times in the second quarter, with neither team getting ahead by more than five for the majority of the frame. However, the Heat closed on an 8-0 run giving them a 62-56 lead heading into the half.
Much like the second quarter, the Celtics kept the margin steady for most of the third, even getting back within a point. But like the second quarter, Miami closed with a big run, this time 15-4. That put the Celtics down 93-79 heading into the fourth.
In the fourth quarter the Celtics finally made their run, cutting Miami’s lead from 21 to 10 with four minutes to play. That was as close as they’d realistically get though, and the deficit wasn’t cut to single digits until the final seconds, when the game was already out of reach.
Without Jaylen Brown, the Celtics other two stars did their part. Jayson Tatum scored a game-high 33 points, and Kemba Walker was right behind him with 30. There wasn’t much help beyond that though – Evan Fournier added 20 points, Marcus Smart had 10, while no other player on the C’s scored in double figures.
Miami brought a much more well-rounded attack, with six players finishing in double figures. Tyler Herro led the team with 24, adding 11 rebounds in a double-double effort off the bench. Bam Adebayo, who had a monster game on Sunday, scored 22, as did Duncan Robinson.
With the loss, the Celtics record dipped to 35-34. They also lost the season series with Miami, giving the Heat the tiebreaker in the standings. The Celtics’ odds at avoiding the play-in are now minimal – they’d need to win their four remaining games, and have the New York Knicks lose out. The two will play in the final game of the season on Sunday.
The Celtics now embark on a three-game road trip to close out the regular season. That trio of games begins on Wednesday in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. Coverage on 98.5 The Sports Hub begins at 7:30 p.m., leading up to an 8:00 tip-off.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.