The strange, back-and-forth Eastern Conference finals continued on Monday night as the Boston Celtics crushed the Miami Heat in Game 4, 102-82, in a game that wasn't as close as that scoreline indicates. With the series now tied at 2-2, action will shift back to Miami for a pivotal Game 5 on Wednesday night.
After a brutal Game 3 in which he finished with 10 points on 3 of 14 from the field, Jayson Tatum led the way for the Celtics with 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Aside from making a few more shots, the big difference was that Tatum was more under control and the Celtics put him in better situations to succeed.
This play in the middle of the first quarter was a perfect example. Derrick White set a small-on-small screen so that Tatum could get isolated against Max Strus on the switch. The Celtics did this all night long, and on this play Tatum makes a hard drive baseline, fakes Strus out of the way and hits a smooth jumper:
Later on, we have an example of his wiser playmaking. In the middle of the second quarter, the Celtics got out on the break and White lobbed a pass up to Tatum. Instead of forcing the issue, he got himself settled along the baseline, read the defense and then spun away from the incoming double team and fired a perfect pass to Grant Williams for a 3:
Tatum didn't rush, nor force his way into traffic much in this game. As a result, he shot more free throws (16) than the entire Heat team (14) and outscored the Heat's entire starting lineup combined (31-18).
While Tatum deserves a lot of credit for his performance, this was an equally awful showing from the Heat's starters. Strus and PJ Tucker did not score at all, combining to go 0 of 11 from the field. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry had three points on 1-of-6 shooting, Jimmy Butler went for six points on 3 of 14 and Bam Adebayo "led the way" with nine points on 3 of 5.
Their 18 combined points were the fewest by a starting lineup in a playoff game since the NBA started tracking such data in 1970. Furthermore, Tatum wasn't the only player to outscore them. Victor Oladipo did as well, finishing with 23 points to become the first player to come off the bench and outscore his team's entire starting lineup since 1970 when such data started being recorded.
The Celtics' defense was incredible at times, and played a big role in the Heat's struggles. At the same time, this was a bizarre performance from the Heat, who settled for too many long jumpers and runners, and generally didn't seem prepared to meet the Celtics' intensity.