JIMMY BUTLER: He and the hometown team are a step away from an NBA championship matchup against the Denver Nuggets – unless the Boston Celtics can make history by winning the remaining three games to stave off elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals. PHOTO COURTESY OF HISTORICCOLUMBIA.ORG

Associated Press and wire reports 

MIAMI, Fla. – Jason Tatum rebounded with 33 points as the Boston Celtics defeated Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat in the third game of the Eastern Conference finals series Tuesday to salvage their pride while avoiding what Luka Doncic and the Denver Nuggets accomplished Monday by sweeping LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers.

As the Nuggets relax and await their NBA Championship opponents, the Heat return to Boston for a game 5 tonight.

Down nine early in the third quarter, down 3-0 in the series, the Celtics knew their season was completely on the brink. Three minutes later, everything looked different.

“We were just trying to save our season,” Tatum said.

A 30-point edge for the Celtics on 3pointers, and an 18-0 run in a threeminute, third-quarter spurt that changed the game and – they hope – might end up changing the series.

“We can’t relax,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “We have to keep the same level of intensity, the same mindset, the same focus in the next game.”

Jimmy Butler scored 29 for Miami, which was outscored 48-22 in a 14minute stretch that turned the game – and perhaps the season – completely around. Boston would also have Game 7 on its floor as well if it can keep extending the series.

“Tonight we played with pace, purpose,” Tatum said. “We were getting stops. We were getting out in transition. You see layups and free throws go in, the jump shots start to feel a lot easier.”

Gabe Vincent scored 17 for Miami, Caleb Martin had 16 and Bam Adebayo added 10. The Heat shot 8 for 32 on 3pointers, while Boston was 18 for 45.

No team in NBA history has ever successfully rallied from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series; 150 have tried, 150 have failed.

But the Celtics gave themselves hope.

“We don’t really have a choice,” Mazzulla said. “It’s do-or-die. Got to stick together.”

Meanwhile, a Heat win today would send Miami to the NBA Finals for the seventh time since 2006 – and give the team some rest before the finals series opens on June 1. If Miami wins the East, Denver will have home-court advantage in the finals. If Boston rallies, the Celtics would have the home-court edge.

Before all that, there’s a Game 5 in Miami, and that has Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s full attention.

“They got us tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Tuesday. “You have to give them credit for that. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no questioning it. We’re not wondering about that. They deserved to win tonight. We have to regroup and get ready for a great opportunity in Boston.”