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The Read & React: gritty win in Miami

Kyrie was cooking to close out the game, but it was Boston’s defense that stifled the Heat.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Deprisco: For certain spurts during the first and third quarters, Marcus Smart was the best player on the floor. He controlled the flow of the game on offense in the pick and roll, and was able to knock down shots from all three levels.

Smart looked a bit rusty against the Bucks in his first game back from his ankle injury. Against Miami, he showed us what we were hoping to see going into a contract year. Hopefully Smart can stay healthy and put this type of performance together on a more consistent basis

Keith Smith: Surprise of the year for the Celtics thus far? The defense. With a shortened preseason and only four returning players, it would have been understandable if the Celtics had a slow start defensively. Instead, that end of the floor has carried them during their current four game win streak.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

And the defense has been led by Al Horford, who has been Boston's best player through the first six games. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been more exciting. Kyrie Irving has done more scoring. And Aron Baynes is truly #AllOfAustralia. But Horford has been the most consistent player on both ends. He's continued his exceptional passing and screening on offense, while also carrying a large than anticipated scoring responsibility. But what has really set him apart is his defense. During the win streak he's taken on the bulk of the guarding of Ben Simmons, Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Johnson. All of those players are skillful, tough covers, yet Horford has more than held his own.

The Celtics were dealt a tough hand with the Gordon Hayward injury, but the NBA calendar only looks forward. It doesn't look back. For Boston to be the team they hope to be, leaders have to emerge. So far, Al Horford has been the Celtics leader on both ends.

Bill Sy: Just to underline Keith’s point, the Celtics have also been meticulous cleaning the defensive glass. After tonight’s game where they only allowed six offensive rebounds to the Heat, Boston is now 4th in defensive rebounding percentage at 81.7%. It’s a small sample size, but compared to last year’s 75.3% clip, it’s a huge improvement. By replacing Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas with the taller Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown and bringing in a brick house like Aron Baynes, the team is better suited to finish defensive stops by grabbing a board.

Everybody’s favorite rebounding guard Terry Rozier grabs the uncontested weak side rebound, but just notice the concerted effort to rebound as a team. Even with the switch on the pick-and-pop, Marcus Smart boxes out Justise Winslow while Jaylen Brown gets a hand up on Tyler Johnson. Daniel Theis who’s above the break checking Kelly Olynyk gets into the restricted area when the shot goes up. Miami didn’t seem interested in crashing the offensive glass last night so you don’t see a lot of traditional boxing out, but every rebound angle is covered just in case.

Romy Nehme: Baynes was filthy tonight. Stevens revealed he only started Theis against Milwaukee so that Baynes could come off the bench to match up with the Celtics' kryptonite, Greg Monroe. Tonight, Baynes was back in the starting lineup and he absolutely broke up the Heat's offensive plans. He has a quick second defensive counter after his initial contest; and he seems to have a GPS on his man, such that even if his attention is momentarily on someone else, he still has the spatial awareness to immediately spin around or track back to put a body on him.

These fundamentals are a novelty in Celticsland. On offense, it's simply impossible to get around him. Whether he's got Kyrie's defender locked up in a chamber to spring him for an open 3, or showing guys open lanes to the rim by barricading his man, he's single handedly creating an arms length of airspace for guys to put up uncontested shots. Tonight was his finest outing, and if he can continue to limit silly offensive fouls, he'll keep on being a fixture in Stevens' O and D.

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