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The Read & React: Smart and Horford chill the Heat

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With Isaiah Thomas getting ejected for a flagrant-2, the pick-and-roll combo of Marcus Smart and Al Horford stopped Miami’s comeback.

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

The invisible man (Bill Sy): After replacing Amir Johnson with Jonas Jerebko in the starting linuep of the second half of Friday’s win against Charlotte, Brad Stevens said that that could happen more often on a situational basis. Last night in Miami, wasn’t one of those nights. Johnson went toe-to-toe with Hassan Whiteside and held his own. If you look at the box score, Whiteside dominated Johnson. Whiteside had 23 & 17 with three blocks while Johnson finished with a modest 9 & 4 with 2 assists.

Last night was quintessential Amir Johnson: throwing his body around, setting picks, sliding in for offensive rebounds, and yes, hitting a three. He rarely gets credit for a solid screen he sets to free up Isaiah Thomas for an open shot or blocking out the opposing center so that Avery Bradley can pull down an uncontested rebound. I’m not the biggest Amir fan, but sometimes, you have to appreciate the unappreciated.

As we near February, you’re going to see a lot of trade rumors pop up, particularly to replace Johnson. His expiring $12M is a nice even number that can get thrown into a deal for a max type player and he plays the fewest minutes by far of any of the starters and less than two players (Smart and Olynyk) off the bench. But until then, Johnson will be used like he was used tonight: a big body that can defend the post and doesn’t mind doing all the dirty work.

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

Celtics winning without IT (Alex Kungu): After Isaiah Thomas went down with an egregious flagrant 2 call, the Celtics were without their closer and the Heat smelled blood, shrinking what was once a double-digit lead down to a 97-93 game. But just as things looked like they could turn for the worse, Marcus Smart and Al Horford connected twice for what proved to be the dagger plays of the game.

In this first action, Smart initiates a post-up with Tyler Johnson, then rolls off an Al Horford screen to force a switch. After forcing the mismatch, Smart wisely gets the ball to Horford who gives Johnson a nifty baseline spin for the and-1.

On the ensuing possession Smart got into the same post-up position again, but instead of stepping back after getting the switch he drove to the basket forcing Whiteside and Richardson to collapse before he kicked it out to Horford for the game-clinching basket.

In the regular season, learning how to win in different ways is important as you prepare for a playoff situation in which anything can happen. Tonight wasn’t a matchup against a team destined for the postseason, but nonetheless it was a physical and competitive atmosphere that forced Boston to play with poise in order to win. Smart’s ability to recognize and exploit these type of mismatches bodes well not just for his own development, but for the team’s overall progress as they continue to grow into the eastern power we expect them to be.

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