The Boston Celtics needed a lift in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals. They blew two big leads in the first two games of the series, before losing 117-114 to the Miami Heat in game one and 106-101 to the Heat in game two.
After the game two loss, the Celtics held an extensive team meeting to figure out what they needed to do differently. There is no doubt that Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was dissatisfied with the team’s performance during game two, and guard Marcus Smart of Flower Mound, TX has been credited for his emotional comments in the Celtics locker room, which helped bring the team together.
In game three, the Celtics got an emotional lift with the return of Gordon Hayward of Indianapolis, IN to the lineup. Hayward injured his ankle in game one of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, a 109-101 Boston win over the Philadelphia 76ers on August 17, and did not see any more action until rejoining the Celtics on Saturday.
Even though Hayward did not start game three, he played 31 minutes while coming off the bench. Hayward scored six points, with five rebounds, four assists, three steals, and one block.
Hayward’s impact to the game was immediate. He entered the contest with five minutes left in the first quarter by coming in for Jayson Tatum. Hayward then had a key defensive rebound with just over four minutes left in the first quarter, and then set up Daniel Theis, who delivered a dunk and put the Celtics up 22-17.
Then in the second quarter, Hayward went up against the Heat’s top player, Jimmy Butler and had a key block and defensive rebound to protect Boston’s six point lead at the time. Then in the fourth quarter, Hayward opened the scoring with a three-pointer which put the Celtics up by a convincing 18 points. Hayward’s stat line might not have been notable, but his impact on the game was, and as a result the Celtics got back into the series with game four set for Wednesday.