If you thought this was going to be a nice, easy win to allow the Celtics to catch up to Clevelend and create a virtual tie for the best record in the East then you were sorely mistaken. With Boston gunning for that number-1 spot and the Heat jostling for a playoff position, both teams had every reason to win and no excuse to lose.
The Heat came into this game hot. Going on the offensive early, they took control and stayed in front throughout the first. Despite some offensive flourishes from the Celtics, like Isaiah’s break to the basket below, Boston struggled to overcome the onslaught from Miami.
Isaiah Thomas is too quick for the Heat pic.twitter.com/PNvS2Wdgwp— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 26, 2017
Boston’s characteristic defensive intensity was nowhere to be seen as Miami were allowed to score with ease, and the Celtics were left playing catchup. A spectacular buzzer-beating shot from Marcus Smart still left the Celtics trailing at the end of the first by 5 with the scores at 27-22.
The second quarter saw the Celtics step up their efforts, but Miami continued to score all too easily. The Heat dominated for most of the second, leading by as many as 15.
However, the Celtics finally found their form as the clock wound down toward the break. In the final minutes of the second quarter Boston found some extra opportunities and evened up the scoreline. This time it was Jae Crowder who scored just before the buzzer and brought the Celtics back to within 5.
Crowder rocks the rim on the final bucket of the first half! pic.twitter.com/44I1D33xGp— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 26, 2017
But despite the late push Miami still held the lead at the halftime break, 58-53.
Reporting back with renewed vigor, the Celtics put in the extra effort as the third quarter began and muscled their way back into the game. At the 9-minute mark of the third quarter a three-pointer from Isaiah Thomas gave Celtics a one-point lead, and the Little Guy went on a scoring run for the rest of the third from there.
Proving he cannot be stopped, Isaiah went on a serious tear, laying the ball up, scoring from deep and cutting through Miami’s defense like it was a pad of butter warmed in the Florida sun.
It was a good game for Boston’s big men as well, with Amir Johnson and Al Horford both facilitating the rest of their team on several occasions. At the third-quarter break Amir Johnson had actually shot a perfect 6 for 6 from the field for the game, including a long-range bomb. Both Al and Amir also put in a strong rebounding effort against a team with a tough frontcourt.
After a good all-around effort, the Celtics outpaced the Heat in the third quarter and took a double-digit lead to the locker room. So the third quarter ended with Boston in front 83-73.
Showing the sticktoitiveness (yeah, it’s a word) that has made them the Cinderella story of the season, the Miami Heat battled back in the fourth quarter and retook the lead with 6 minutes left in the game.
The scores stayed tied or close to even as the final buzzer approached, with both teams clearly wanting the win and neither side giving up.
As a pair of free throws by Isaiah extended the Celtics lead beyond a slender one-point margin, the chants of MVP echoed through the TD Garden. A defensive stop the other way gave the Celtics a golden opportunity at a key point in the game, and Isaiah wasted no time cutting through Miami’s defense and extending Boston’s lead. But Miami remained undeterred and took it to the Celtics on both ends of the floor.
The final minute came after Isaiah sunk another nifty bucket, reminding everyone that he is still the King in the Fourth and giving Boston the edge for the last minute of a closely contested game.
Marcus Smart got involved in more than a few plays, and Jae Crowder proved to be Boston’s best not-so-secret weapon. But it was some tricky rotations from Stevens in the final minutes of the game that may have been the most under-appreciated asset for the Celtics in this game. As the final buzzer approached, Brad Stevens subbed IT out for Jaylen Brown on almost every defensive possession and then swapped the players back out on the offensive end. The manoeuvre paid off and gave the Celtics the advantage on both ends of the floor, allowing them to close out the game efficiently and effectively.
A rejection by Horford on Miami’s final possession provided a perfect finish to a good game. The Celtics closed out as a team and were able to overcome the Heat to get the win against a possible playoff opponent, beating Miami 112-108.
This win gives the Boston Celtics one more victory than Cleveland for the season, but Boston also has an extra loss on their record when compared to the Cavs, so technically Cleveland remain in the number-1 spot in the East. But if the Cavs drop their game against the ever-intimidating Spurs tomorrow, Boston will officially take the top spot in the Eastern Conference, making this final stretch all the more important.
Standings aside, this win shows Boston can edge out tough and hungry opponents, which will be essential come playoff time no matter who the Celtics end up facing.