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Celtics overcome the depleted Heat 112-104

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The Celtics get another road-win as Al Horford celebrates the birth of his second child

NBA: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics made the trip to Miami without Al Horford, who missed his tenth game of the season. However, only the most blackhearted Boston fan would find fault with Horford’s absence, as the proud father was celebrating the birth of his second child.

Besides, even without their starting center the Celtics were less worse for wear than their competition, as the Miami Heat entered the game missing several key players.

Dragic and Whiteside were game-time decisions to play but ended up hitting the court despite their collective soreness.

Boston won the opening tip, but Miami were able to get an early lead, scoring the first five points of the game. Yet it didn’t take the Celtics long to wrest the lead away and then build on it from there.

Miami sought to take advantage of the mismatch between Dragic and Thomas and funneled much of their offense through their taller point guard. While Isaiah remained undeterred and unfazed, he did struggle in the first half and seemed to have trouble shaking his taller defender. Early on he put up a ludicrously short three-point attempt, and at the end of the first he had shot 0 of 5 from three-point range, finishing the half with only 4 points and 4 assists .

But Isaiah’s back-court brethren and the second half of the Tacoma twosome, Avery Bradley, was able to put up points early, scoring from all over the court while also providing tough, heads-up defense. And Jae Crowder seems to have shaken the rust off on offense while remaining all-energy on defense, so the Celtics were able to edge out to a double-digit lead early.

In perhaps the most surprising revelation in the first half, it looked like Zeller had the advantage over Miami’s Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside failed to find his form on the offensive end and, despite pulling down five rebounds, wasn’t able to significantly impact the game. Zeller, on the other hand, had several successful plays run through him, and he was able to pull down a few boards as well.

As was to be expected against the Heat’s depleted roster, Stevens prudently rotated in the Celtics’ second unit fairly early, and this contest fast became a battle of the benches. Terry Rozier played well in the second frame, leading Boston’s backup players as they piled points onto Miami and took a strong lead. Jonas Jerebko also showed improvements, proving he can be a capable go-to scorer for the second unit.

This strong team effort from Boston contrasted sharply with Miami, whose offense completely abandoned them. Boston took over during the second quarter by sharing the ball and keeping everyone involved. While Miami were making the occasional lucky bucket, the Celtics were running strong plays on every trip down the court, which allowed them to catch the Heat out of position and consistently capitalise. To add insult to injury in a quarter that had been unkind to the Heat, Jae Crowder banked home a three-point shot at the end of the second and strengthened the Celtics’ already solid lead.

Boston led in almost every category at the end of the first half, with a 17-point lead over the Heat and the score very much in Boston’s favour at 48-31. Miami were held to just twelve points for the entire second quarter, and the Celtics consistently out-hustled the Heat.

In a promising sign, the Celtics were also actually winning the rebounding battle, if only just. Boston displayed this gritty rebounding efford despite Olynyk and Jerebko’s tendency to hover closer to the perimeter than the paint. Boston continued to rely on group rebounding, and Bradley was once again Boston’s leader on the boards.

The third quarter saw more energy and activity from Miami, as Dragic came alive for the Heat. Meanwhile, Boston continued to try and shut down Whiteside without help from their own starting center, Al Horford.

However, Thomas was able to shake his defenders more comfortably in the third and managed to drive to the rim for a wide-open layup on more than one occasion, as Miami’s defense struggled to keep up.

For their part, Miami did find their form on offense as they moved the ball and found their rhythm, scoring more in the third frame than they did in the entire first half.

Yet even with the offensive improvements, the Heat couldn’t catch the Celtics, who continued to look confident on every trip down the court. Miami were able to finish the third on a high note as Wayne Ellington made a jump shot from just inside the arc, but they still trailed by ten with the score at 83-73.

Miami mounted a comeback of sorts in the fourth frame as they battled back to try and make the score respectable. But Boston was unrelenting in their attack and continued to discombobulate the Heat’s defense. Miami were made to look foolish with plays like this one, where Isaiah sailed the ball across the whole court to find a wide-open Jae Crowder, who stuffed the ball into the basket, entirely unchallenged.

The end of the fourth was slowed down, as both teams looked for fouls and the referees obliged. Smart found himself the recipient of both a flagrant and a technical foul while also being sent to the line himself, as Miami deliberately fouled Smart in a somewhat successful strategy. As the final buzzer approached the Heat shaved the lead to single digits for the first time in a long time.

Their rhythm broken, the Celtics looked to Isaiah to close out the final frame. Luckily ‘the little guy’ was able to deliver, as he continues to develop as a clutch performer and a key closer for the Celtics.

In the end, despite some late lapses, the Celtics were able to get the win on the back of their strong, early play. The Celtics beat the Heat 112-104 for their fourth road win in a row.