Heat vs. Celtics: How ‘special’ Kyle Lowry changed everything for Miami in Game 3 win

Kyle Lowry wasn’t the star of the show in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. That was Bam Adebayo, whose 31 points (on 15-for-22 shooting!) were crucial to a Miami Heat team that was without Jimmy Butler in the second half on Saturday. But while Lowry posted a modest 11 points in 4-for-11 shooting, his fingerprints were all over Miami’s 109-103 win.

His most memorable game came late in the fourth quarter. It was classic Lowry: sneaky, smart and totally spontaneous. With 48 seconds left, the Boston Celtics were still alive, albeit just barely; From a free throw seven points down, Grant Williams passed the ball to Marcus Smart, but Lowry cut in, got his hands on the ball, saved it from going out and found Miami’s Max Strus, who cut to the basket on a layup. Lowry cried out in celebration as Boston called a time-out:

Hours before Lowry threw that dagger, he set the tone. On the Heat’s first-ever possession, he pushed the ball off an offensive rebound and primed Strus for a Transition 3. All season Lowry was the player most responsible for Miami’s fantastic transition offense because of plays like these:

On the next possession, Boston shoved the ball right back into the heat. Lowry grabbed big man Al Horford, put him against the post and scored his first of four steals:

A few possessions later, after a layup from Horford, Lowry caught the Celtics napping with a hit-ahead pass to Butler for a layup and the foul.

This prompted Boston coach Ime Udoka to call his first time out of the game. Udoka described Lowry as “the head of the snake” for Miami when it comes to picking up the pace.

“He does,” said Udoka. “We talked about that before the game. It’s the impact he has on the game.”

After the timeout, Jayson Tatum missed a runner, and four seconds later Lowry conceded a pull-up 3 in transition to give Miami a 14-4 lead. At the end of the quarter it was 39:18.

Throughout the season, Lowry was the player most responsible for capitalizing on Heat transition chances. This is especially important against the NBA’s best half-court defense. “They’re big, they’re aggressive,” Lowry said. “But for me it’s about the pace and giving us casual looks.” In the second quarter, he got a hockey assist on an Adebayo dunk for getting rid of the ball the moment he caught it:

Lowry played 29 minutes, returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two games in the first round, four games in the second round and the first two games of the conference finals. He didn’t shoot well when he got a chance to play in those playoffs, but he made timely jumps in Game 3. As the Heat started the second half with a few empty possessions, Lowry knocked down his patented pull-up 3 to the left. As Smart returned from an injury scare and cut Miami’s lead to 10 points, Lowry calmed the wild crowd with a hard move back against Horford.

“He’s special,” Strus said. “Obviously having him back helped, especially on a night where we lose JB. His leadership and playoff experience has been tremendous for us to keep us grounded and everything positive. He spent a lot of time in his career in those moments, so to have him here with us is huge.”

This is a player who made six All-Star teams, won a gold medal, and scored 26 points in a game that won an NBA championship. All along, however, Lowry has done much of his damage in what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra calls “the games in between.” When Lowry senses an opportunity to attack, when his team needs him to improvise, when there’s a loose ball or a broken game, he tends to make a difference. On Saturday, his crunch-time steal wasn’t the only time he surprised Smart:

Lowry’s mere presence gave Miami a boost defensively simply because Boston isn’t targeting him the way Gabe Vincent is targeting. Offensively, the Heat needed all the playmaking they could get – they weren’t that good on halfcourt during the regular season, and with Duncan Robinson playing a smaller role, Tyler Herro struggling and Butler unavailable after halftime, they had to find ways find survival. In moments like this, it helps to have a point guard who is constantly looking for small advantages to exploit.

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