Due to injuries, the Celtics’ starting lineup has seen limited time together on the court this season, but when they have played together it has been pretty impressive. This game against the Heat saw the starters impress yet again as, despite some setbacks in the second half, the healthier Celtics were able to overcome their opponents handily.
Even though they were visiting the Heat’s hometown it was the Celtics that were on fire. Finally able to roll out virtually a full roster (minus Gerald Green, who was out with a hamstring injury) the Celtics looked a lot more like the force that they were expected to be this season.
As a fan it was beautiful to watch the Celtics team finally find their form, as the ball flew around the court and found the open man on virtually every possession. But arguably more important than the improved offensive execution, the Celtics looked like themselves again on defense, hustling on every play and winning every fifty-fifty ball they could.
In Isaiah’s second game back from injury, he seemed eager to drive home just how important he is to this team. In fact he just seemed eager to drive, scoring at will for most of the game. Of course he also racked up assists, keeping the ball moving and keeping everyone involved, like with this sweet behind-the-back dish to Crowder for three.
IT finds Crowder with a sweet no-look dime for the 3! pic.twitter.com/2RIgLDX7IZ— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 18, 2016
Amazing assists like this are just part of what this team is capable of when everyone is playing and playing well. The first quarter was a flurry of activity from the Celtics, who pushed on every possession and found themselves with a strong lead early. The Celtics led after the first buzzer 37-19, and it was all because of good team play. The starting five found each other consistently and shared the ball to ensure that everyone was contributing.
The second quarter saw the second unit getting involved, and while they weren’t quite the picture of perfection that the starting five presented themselves as, the bench unit still worked well together. Everyone seems to be settling into their roles and playing more comfortably with each other. The improved communication was particularly evident on the defensive end of the floor, where the Celtics were able to close out on their opponents by working together and rotating effectively.
Everyone on the bench found a way to impact the game with limited minutes, and they looked more locked-in than I’ve seen them for most of this season, but the first half was dominated by the Celtics starters.
Avery Bradley continued to be the team’s stalwart on both ends of the floor, shooting with consistency and defending with intensity. While Al Horford struggled from the floor in the first half, he managed to impact the game as a playmaker and a defender by grabbing some steals and dealing out some assists. Jae Crowder did all the little things that make Jae great, and Amir Johnson was unable to miss in the first half, shooting 4 for 4 from the floor and getting 9 points in just 14 minutes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly—as they seemed to be firing on all cylinders—Boston were still up double digits by the end of the first half with the score at 58-41.
The third quarter saw the Celtics find some easy opportunities by moving the ball. In another exemplary play, Crowder was yet again at the receiving end of a solid pass off of good ball movement
Beautiful ball movement leads to an easy Crowder bucket pic.twitter.com/GFnh54UE8t— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 19, 2016
Yet despite finding their way to the bucket plenty of times it seemed like there was a lid on the rim, as the Celtics struggled to score for most of the third. After scoring 37 in the first quarter, the Celtics had a much poorer showing in the third frame, scoring only 19 points.
The Celtics’ failure to execute allowed Miami to make a dent in the lead, and by the end of the third the Heat trailed by just 7 points with the score at 77-70.
Entering the final frame, the Celtics knew they needed to take the momentum back. Luckily they were able to do exactly that, as the shots finally started to fall again and the Celtics were able to reassert control.
With Stevens able to draw on basically a full complement of players, he went to a range of lineups to close out the game. While the final minutes were appropriately tense, the game never really seemed in doubt, as Boston looked unfazed by whatever the Heat tried to throw at them.
But just when the game seemed in the bag, Boston were given a reason to be fearful as Isaiah Thomas was ejected after being given a flagrant 2 foul for swinging an elbow at Justise Winslow in a call that (and yes I’m biased) seemed like an overreaction.
Miami quickly took advantage of the call in their favour and attacked a discombobulated Boston, who were only just getting used to having their full team together to close out games. A few more calls Miami’s way allowed the Heat to claw back into the game, but some solid play down the stretch allowed the Celtics to escape Miami with the win.
In the end the Celtics were able to show what they can do when they have a full roster, for the most part, and proved that maybe the pre-season hype in how good this unit could really be together wasn’t misplaced as they beat the Heat 105-95.