MIAMI, FL —- Play with physicality. Effort. Grit. Emotion. That’s the mentality that Brad Stevens and Erik Spoelstra have engrained in their teams. And that’s what we saw tonight.
In front of a Miami crowd that took 44 game minutes to show any signs of life, the Celtics and Heat battled in a contest that had a playoff-like flavor and feel. In the end, Boston held off a resurgent Miami comeback for a 96-90 win.
After a fairly even first quarter, the Celtic bench surged on a 14-4 run to start the second, headlined by Marcus Smart, who hit back to back 3’s to help claim the lead. But the Heat answered with a 9 to 2 burst of their own, with Goran Dragic and James Johnson easily able to the rim in the Miami 5-out offense. During that time, the Celtic offensive ball movement disappeared. The starters were burdened by a few stagnant sets and end of clock isolation heaves. Boston converted only two field goals in the final six minutes of the first half, and took a 2 point lead into halftime.
The defense blanketing the Heat to start the second half, limiting them to 7 of 19 (36%) shooting in the third quarter. Boston extended the lead to 11, but saw it evaporate as Miami closed the gap to 2 with under three minutes to go. From there, Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart took over. Irving mightily thrived in crunch time, and overcame a 4 for 13 first half shooting performance. He converted two critical driving layups and nailed a pull up 3 dribbling off of an Al Horford screen. Irving finished with 24 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. With thirty seconds left, Smart iced the game by grabbing a backbreaking offensive rebound with two Heat players draped all over him. Irving sunk the consequent free throws, and the game was out of reach.
It was another strong performance by Jayson Tatum. The rookie looks more poised with each passing game. He finished with 20 points and 5 rebounds in 31 minutes. Tonight was the heaviest that the team has relied on his one-on-one skills, and Tatum craftily toggled between creating his own shot and distributing to open teammates. Moving forward, the 19-year-old is starting to earning enough trust to run the entire offense for short stints.
This was also Smart’s best offensive output of the season. He led the Celtic bench with 16 points, 4 dimes, and 4 boards on a solid 6 of 12 shooting, and he was a catalyst for the big 2nd quarter run that gave Boston a lead that they would never surrender.
On a night where the Heat were without Hassan Whiteside’s rebounding dominance, the C’s won the glass battle, besting Miami 41 to 40. Boston had entered the night ranked 8th in total rebounding percentage, per NBA.com. Both teams were relentlessly crashing the offensive glass, and Tatum converted a beautiful running tip in early in the game.
After inking a four-year $50 million deal in Miami, a slimmed down Kelly Olynyk was effective in his first game against his old team, finishing with 14 points and 8 rebounds in 23 minutes. He aggressively looked for his shot, and appeared to be more decisive and fluid than he was during the previous four seasons.
The Celtics improved to 4-2. These teams will meet again in South Beach on November 22 and at the TD Garden on December 20.
Next up, the Green will host the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs on Monday night. Signs are pointing to Marcus Morris making his Celtic debut sometime in the coming week.
All non-cited statistics are from basketballreference.com
All salary information is from realgm.com