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BOSTON – The crucial test for a contender is how they play when their best player struggles. With Isaiah Thomas barely reaching double figures, the Celtics compensated with rugged defense and great passing. They beat the Heat 101-89 as six players scored in double figures and eight players scored at least eight points.
It was a tight, grinding game for the first three quarters, until the Celtics defense locked down the final period. They forced four turnovers while not committing a single fumble.
With the lead at four, Smart inbounded from under the hoop to Sullinger curling off an Isaiah Thomas cross screen. Dwyane Wade, who was defending Smart on the inbound, switched out to Sullinger to help a recovering Whiteside.
While this stopped Sullinger, it left Smart open under the hoop for a quick layup. This kicked off a 15-5 run in the final 4:25 to shut the door on the Heat.
Relative unknown Josh Richardson was a crucial spark off the bench for the Heat, scoring 11 points while holding down the low post with a few blocks and some stellar athletic plays.
But the Heat clearly rely on Hassan Whiteside to control the defensive center of gravity for the team. Facing a motion offense that attacks you from weird angles, Whiteside found himself in no-man’s land too often.
In a crucial play where the Celtics led by seven with 2:35 left, Thomas ran a set to put Whiteside’s pivot rotation ability to the test.
Thomas faked a flare screen while Marcus Smart curled out of the corner to the weak side block. This pulled Wade away from the strong side and created an even matchup for a pick-and-roll.
Sullinger slips a cross screen off a pass to Thomas and rolls down the right lane. Thomas, being a full-time lefty as anyone who reads a scouting report would know, drives the left lane with an option to attack the left glass or slip a pocket pass to Sullinger. Whiteside continues to hold the middle ground, but never actually reacts when the shot goes up.
It could have been an easy block for him, but there are a lot of whispers around the Heat that defending these kind of tricky pivot scenarios can be too much for him to handle.
While his eight blocks were as mesmerizing as they were impactful, making the smart plays with your back against the wall is what earns you big money. The jury is very much still out as to whether Whiteside is capable of carrying that mantle.
Should the Celtics chase Hassan Whiteside with their cap space?
This poll is closed
Only if it's less than $15m a year
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