The Celtics could not afford to go back to Miami down 3-1. And after getting out-muscled on Saturday, Gam 4's hosts had to answer that challenge and, at a minimum, match the Heat's physicality.
They did just that, flipping the script to play the role of the aggressors. With Robert Williams back in the lineup, Boston's size advantage, paired with consistently attacking the basket, led to the Celtics taking 38 free throws, capitalizing on 32 of them.
They also produced 38 points in the paint, overcoming shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 8/34 (23.5 percent) from beyond the arc. Boston also played stifling defense, limiting Miami to 82 points. The Heat finished the first frame with 11 points, the lowest for them in a playoff first quarter in franchise history.
Now, for a deep dive into how Game 4 unfolded.
Celtics Hold Heat to Fewest First-Quarter Playoff Points in Franchise History
Al Horford stripped Bam Adebayo on the game's first play, translating to a Derrick White layup in traffic at the other end. That's notable with White saying after Monday's shootaround that he has to play more aggressively.
White then swished a three from above the break on Boston's following possession to give the home team a 5-0 lead. Two possessions later, he drove in for a layup to make it 7-0 Derrick White.
At the 8:32 mark, with the game getting played at a fast pace featuring lots of contact the officials were ok with, Tatum euro-stepped to the cup, missed the layup, but a late whistle sent him to the line. He went 1/2 to make it 8-0.
With 7:56 to play in the period, Adebayo got to the free-throw line, thanks to a Jimmy Butler drive drawing two defenders and him up-faking Robert Williams before getting the ball to Adebayo. Miami's center missed the first shot and made the second.
But the Celtics quickly countered with a big-to-big alley-oop as Horford threw the lob, and Williams took care of the rest.
With 7:03 to go, Jayson Tatum attacked in transition, laying in the ball over Kyle Lowry, also drawing a foul on Lowry. He didn't make the free throw, and after Horford grabbed the rebound, White's open three from the left corner went in-and-out, keeping the score at 12-1.
Following a Boston timeout, Tatum got his right shoulder, the one he sustained a stinger in during Game 3, worked on during the break. But on the Celtics' ensuing possession, Tatum swished a mid-range fadeaway jumper, then finished off an alley-oop from White in transition. Tatum's jam made it 18-1 Boston.
After a Dewayne Dedmon missed mid-range jump shot at the 4:34 mark, the Heat were 0/13 from the field.
With 3:20 left, Victor Oladipo buried a three from above the break for Miami's first field goal, bringing the score to 18-4. But Tatum matched his three, pushing the hosts advantage back to 17.
After a Heat timeout, White, staying aggressive, attacked off the dribble from the left wing, getting to the basket for two. That extended the Celtics' lead to 23-4.
On Boston's following possession, Duncan Robinson fouled Tatum as the latter launched a step-back three. Tatum made all three free throws, making it 26-4 with 2:03 remaining.
The Celtics then put Robert Williams on Butler, but the latter swished a mid-range fadeaway over him. Then, after a Boston turnover, Oladipo earned a trip to the line, where he went 2/2, cutting the deficit to 26-8.
Then, Oladipo pushed the pace off a White miss near the rim, getting to the charity stripe again. He made the first and missed the second to make it 26-9.
With 22.9 seconds left, after Payton Pritchard blocked a Gabe Vincent layup, White wisely weaved into Dedmon, drawing the second foul on Miami's backup center, sending White to the line. He went 1/2, extending the Celtics' advantage to 29-11.
That's where the score stood at the end of one. ESPN's Mike Breen reported it's the fewest first quarter playoff points for the Heat in franchise history. They shot 3/20 from the field.
Boston didn't shoot much better (40.9 percent), including 2/11 (18.2 percent) from beyond the arc. But the Celtics earned 12 free throws, making nine. They also generated 12 points in the paint compared to two for Miami.
Tatum led all scorers in the first frame with 12 points, while White also reached double figures, registering ten.
Celtics' Size Advantage, Aggressive Approach Help Hosts Extend Lead Entering Halftime
Oladipo sparked the second-quarter scoring, canning a step-back three to make it 29-14. After that, Boston earned multiple opportunities, including several attempted tip-ins, before Robert Williams got one to go down.
Then, Brown swished a three from the left wing, 28-feet out, pushing the lead to fourteen, 34-16.
On the Celtics' ensuing possession, with Tatum back in the game, he flashed from the weakside to the strong-side elbow, catching a pass from Brown, turning face and swishing a jumper.
Tatum followed that up by driving baseline for a reverse layup, going from right to left to give the home team a 38-18 advantage.
At the 7:32 mark, White stripped Adebayo, and Brown drove past Caleb Martin, who had drilled a three on the previous Heat possession before the steal. Brown then went into the chest of Robinson, and earned two points at the rim. That made it 40-21, prompting Erik Spoelstra to take a timeout.
After the break, Butler and Tatum traded baskets, bringing the score to 42-23.
Tatum followed that up with a trip to the free-throw line, where he made both shots. Grant Williams then pushed the lead to 24, fielding a cross-court pass from Tatum and burying an open three, making it 47-23 with 5:32 remaining.
At the 3:37 mark, Oladipo swished a right-corner three, giving him 16 points. That made it 50-26. Robert Williams then earned a trip to the line, where he went 2/2 and followed it up by swatting a P.J. Tucker push shot.
That block led to White getting to the charity stripe at the other end. White made the first and missed the second, pushing Boston's advantage to 53-26.
With 2:10 to go, Lowry drilled a three from 27-feet to cut the Heat's deficit to 55-31.
At the end of the first half, the score read 57-33 Celtics. Tatum led all scorers with 24 points, shooting 6/11 from the field. He was 0/4 from beyond the arc, but he more than made up for it with an aggressive approach that resulted in him taking 14 free throws, making 12 of them.
Tatum also grabbed seven rebounds, dished out three assists, and didn't commit a turnover.
Boston also got 11 points from White and eight from Robert Williams. As a team, the Celtics' staying in attack mode and capitalizing on their size advantage with Williams back in the lineup led to 26 free throws. They made 21 of them, overcoming shooting 37.2 percent from the field and 4/17 (23.5 percent) on threes.
They also generated 20 points in the paint, scored nine off six Miami turnovers, and only coughed up the ball three times, minimizing the Heat's transition scoring.
Oladipo led Miami with 18 points off the bench, but no one else on the Heat reached double figures.
Heat Can't Cut Into the Deficit; Robert Williams Comes Up Limping
Robert Williams opened the second half by taking a feed from White and finishing at the rim to make it 59-33.
At the 10:47 mark, the Timelord held his ground as Butler tried to drive into him to create separation. But with his efforts unsuccessful, a rarity, Williams rejected his attempt at the rim.
He then fielded a lob from Horford that was a bit off the mark. But Williams' has such good hands and touch around the rim, he corralled the lob and tapped it in off the glass to extend Boston's advantage to 63-35.
Shortly after that, Tatum nearly lost the ball, White retrieved it, eventually got it back to Tatum on a backdoor cut, and the three-time All-Star spun and banked in a jumper. That made it 67-37.
Horford then swatted Adebayo, and on the ensuing Miami possession, Lowry, drawing roars from the TD Garden faithful.
The only blemish was Robert Williams, who's fighting through left knee soreness, started limping, causing Ime Udoka to bring Grant Williams in for him.
At the 5:11 mark, with Boston pushing in transition, Brown knifed in for a layup, missed, but got his rebound and finished the put-back, extending the hosts advantage to 71-42.
Shortly after that, Tatum blocked Oladipo from behind, leading to another transition layup for Brown, going into the chest of Vincent and earning two more points.
With 4:04 left in the frame, Butler subbed out for Robinson. That's probably it for Butler tonight. He's got Six points on 3/14 shooting. It's unclear how much his knee is bothering him, but he didn't have it this game.
With 16.2 seconds left in the period, after a Celtics' timeout with Miami's bench, led by Caleb Martin, slowly chipping away, Tatum drilled a three from the left wing, the only long-distance shot Boston made in the quarter. Oladipo then got to the cup for two. That brought the score to 76-52.
Pritchard banked in a shot from near half court, but it came after the buzzer, making Oladipo's bucket the last one of the frame.
Celtics Coast to Victory
At the 11:00 mark, after free throws by Grant Williams, who hurt his shoulder but told Ime Udoka he's ok, and an alley-oop to Dedmon, Pritchard swished a three from the right wing. That extended the Celtics' lead to 81-54.
Shortly after that, Robinson and Horford traded threes, bringing the score to 84-57. Brown then grabbed Dedmon's arm as the two fought for position for the rebound on a Robinson missed three. After Brown got called for a foul, the two exchanged words and received double technicals.
Horford then swatted a Martin shot, bringing the home crowd to their feet.
And with 8:55 remaining, Pritchard took a cross-court pass from Tatum, up-faked Martin and stepped into a pull-up jumper he rattled in to make it 88-57, prompting coach Spoelstra to take a timeout.
Duncan Robinson making four threes in the final frame is worth filing away as this series goes back to Miami, but Monday's matchup belonged to the Celtics, dominating a must-win game on their home floor.
Tatum finished with a game-high 31 points, shooting 8/16 from the field. He went 1/7 from beyond the arc. But like his team, he overcame it with an attacking mindset that produced frequent trips to the free-throw line.
Tatum took 16 shots at the charity stripe, converting on 14. He also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out five assists, swatted two shots, and only committed three turnovers.
White scored 13, grabbed eight boards, distributed six assists, and swiped three steals in one of his best games with Boston. As for Brown, he produced 12 points, seven rebounds, and he kept the turnovers in check, only coughing the ball up once after doing so a game-high seven times in Game 3.
Robert Williams registered 12 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks. The Celtics are a different team with him in the lineup, and his size is a difference-maker in this series. After he limped out of the game in the third quarter, his status will get monitored closely.
As a team, Boston overcame shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 8/34 (23.5 percent) from beyond the arc by generating 38 free throws, making 32. The Celtics also produced 38 points in the paint, 13 off nine Miami turnovers, and limited their giveaways to 11.
They also played stifling defense, holding the Heat to 82 points, including 11 in the first quarter, the lowest Miami's scored in the first frame of a playoff game in franchise history. None of the Heat's starters reached double-digit scoring in this game.
Now, the Celtics have to play with this urgency and physicality on the heel's of a win, especially with the series heading back to South Beach.
Game 5 of this Eastern Conference Finals series between the Celtics and Heat is Wednesday night at 8:30 ET. Inside The Celtics will have content related to the game coming out before, during, and after. And follow @BobbyKrivitsky on Twitter for updates and analysis from pregame to post.