What a terrible start to our finish.
The first quarter of tonight's Celtics game against the Heat looked eerily similar to Boston's recent 2nd-quarter flop against the Charlotte Hornets. After a quarter that saw Luol Deng feast on Amir Johnson, Hassan Whiteside feast on the boards, and the Miami defense feast on the whole Boston team, the Celtics found themselves down by a score of 35-13 after the first frame.
The Heat found a great deal of success with their starting lineup, and Deng's speed in particular was very effective against Amir Johnson. However, that was to be expected, to a degree. What was unexpected was the inability of Boston to pull down defensive rebounds consistently or to finish in the paint. Isaiah Thomas, in particular, had a great deal of difficulty finishing over Miami's length in the paint.
The second quarter was much like Celtics fans expected tonight's game to go--it was a gritty, back-and-forth affair, with the Celtics outscoring the Heat 27-25. Turner did some damage in that quarter, as his mid range shooting was needed against Miami's tight defense. He and Zeller were able to have enough success to keep the Celtics in the quarter, even if they weren't able to make up much ground.
I don't know what happened during halftime. I don't know who said what, what words were exchanged, or what promises were made. I like to imagine that it was a dramatic speech, accompanied by stirring and emotional music. The reason that I like to imagine it this way is because being in an inspiring sports movie is the only way I can explain what happened in the 3rd quarter.
The Celtics came to life.
I don't mean that they started to fight a little bit, and made a gallant effort to try to get the game back to respectable.
I mean they went on a 20-0 run, and held the Heat to 5 total points in the third quarter. The final score of the third frame was 25-5. The Garden went from being a cemetery to being a party. It was electric as the crowd started to realize what was happening in front of them. The Heat went away from feeding the ball into the paint, which is what made them so successful throughout the first half. The Celtics, on the other hand, stopped trying to drive the ball into the paint in the half court. Instead, they got out on the break off of turnovers and rebounds and were able to fuel their lead with mostly breakaway and secondary-break buckets.
That energy continued into the fourth quarter.
Going into the fourth, the Celtics were only down 63-67. After a few minutes of both teams trading buckets back and forth, the magic continued. Kelly Olynyk, and even more so Evan Turner, started to take over the game. They were able to string together buckets on several Celtics possessions to keep the momentum in Boston's corner. A drive and dunk by Turner tied the game at 69, and a KO and-1 (assisted by ET) gave the Celtics a three-point lead, 72-69.
With a little over 4 minutes left, Wade and Isaiah Thomas subbed back into the game, indicating that the final shootout was going to begin.
And Boston won.
The Celtics were able to extend their lead up to ten, and they finished on top with a score of 98-88
- A large part of what fueled the third- and fourth-quarter runs was Boston's defensive rebounding. They had been decimated on the boards for the first half but rewarded their stops in the final frames by closing good defensive possessions with defensive rebounds. Avery Bradley and Jonas Jerebko were particularly tenacious and effective, pulling down multiple contested rebounds.
- The Celtics didn't play like themselves in the first, and the Heat didn't play like themselves in the second. The common point is that both of them got away from what made them successful. The lesson here: be true to yourself. Let's hope that the Celtics commit themselves to forcing turnovers and manufacturing fast breaks once the playoffs start.
- When the Celtics got back into the game, it was as a team. We saw the rebirth of Celtics Hustle (hey Bobby Manning) tonight. Let's keep it going into the postseason!