Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker were back in the starting lineup for the Miami Heat in Saturday night’s Game 3 at TD Garden against the Boston Celtics in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
For the Heat, it was a significant step, considering Lowry had missed eight of the previous 10 games due to a strained left hamstring, and considering that Tucker bruised his left knee in Thursday night’s Game 2 to the degree that there were initial thoughts of requiring an MRI.
Both participated in the morning shootaround at TD Garden, announced as starters 45 minutes before tip-off.
Lowry had missed the past two weeks, initially injured April 22 in the Heat’s Game 3 loss during the first round to the Atlanta Hawks, a series the Heat won 4-1.
He then returned, only to be sidelined in the East semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, which the Heat won 4-2. Prior to Saturday, his last action had been May 8 in Philadelphia.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stressed that the setback against the 76ers was not a setback in terms of Lowry’s rehab.
“He wanted to play Game 5 last series,” Spoelstra said of when Lowry’s stretch of four consecutive absences began. “I think we’ve handled this appropriately. I think even the ramp up before that, in the Philly series, I think we checked all the boxes. Things will happen.
“He didn’t reinjure. I think that was important, so he still was able to heal. If he did reinjure it, I think he would have been out a lot longer. It’s just he still felt it, so we erred on the side of caution and taking more time.”
Celtics coach Ime Udoka noted Lowry’s ability to set the tone for the Heat.
“It’s heightened awareness of a veteran point guard that does a lot of good things for the team. Immediately their pace increases and he kind of pushes the pace, ball up court, finding the guys,” Udoka said 90 minutes before tipoff. “And obviously the three-point threat, a guy that we played against for years and know the veteran presence he brings to the team. Just another guy you have to be aware of as well as the other shooters that they have.”
Tucker left Thursday night’s loss at FTX Arena after first injuring the knee in the first half and the aggravating it in the third quarter.
But instead of an MRI there was treatment and then court time Saturday morning.
Spoelstra laughed when asked what it would take to keep Tucker, 37, out.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think all of us, you’re kind of on eggshells with him. You can’t ask him how he’s doing. I can’t ask a trainer, because if he sees me talking to a trainer, he barks at me and yells at me if I’m talking to the trainers. I’m allowed to talk to the trainers, that is part of my job.
“But he is a throwback by every definition of that.”
Spoelstra said he knows that if his players can play, they will play.
“For better or worse, we don’t have guys wired like that,” Spoelstra said of players erring on the side of caution.
Lowry being back in the mix injected a similar upgrade to what the Celtics received in Game 2, after guard Marcus Smart and big man Al Horford were sidelined from their Game 1 loss on the Heat’s court on Tuesday night.
“Obviously you have a Hall of Fame point guard,” Spoelstra said of Lowry, 36. “It won’t be 40 minutes. But whatever his minutes are, he has the experience and resume. You can’t necessarily put a weight to it; you just know what it means to your team, especially in a building like this, on the road.”
For the Celtics, guard Derrick White was back after missing Game 2 for the birth of his son. But the Celtics returned center Robert Williams to their injury report, ruled out due to knee soreness.
Williams was held out of the final four games of the Celtics 4-3 East semifinal victory over the Milwaukee Bucks with the knee issue, the outgrowth of previous meniscus surgery. He then played in the first two games against the Heat, with uneven results.
Udoka opted to start Daniel Theis in place of Williams.
“We like our size always and we’ve done that well this year,” Udoka said of Theis. “Kind of puts Grant [Williams] back in his role, even though he’s done both this year, as well. And matchup-wise and scheme and schematically, what we want to do and the way we want to start, Daniel benefits us, and we let Al kind of keep his role his that he would with Rob.”