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Celtics’ comeback falls short, lose to the Heat 115-99

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Boston’s undefeated January comes to an end after a poor effort in South Beach.

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

For a moment, it appeared as if the Boston Celtics were on the cusp of manufacturing another 26-point comeback. Unfortunately, not enough players bought into the comeback effort, allowing the Miami Heat to win 120-97. Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 22, and the Heat had 6 players in double figures, led by Dwyane Wade’s 19. Of course it had to be Wade.

Neither team could miss early in the first quarter, leading to an exciting back-and-forth stretch featuring nothing but hot shooting. There was a point when the Celtics shot 81% to the Heat’s 71%. Free basketball rules.

My Twitter timeline told me that some kind of highlight occurred including James Johnson and Kyrie Irving, but incidentally, I went blind for a few seconds which must have been when the play occurred. Hate when that happens. As such, you won’t find that specific highlight here.

However, you will find this highlight:

Things slowed down significantly in the second half of the first quarter. Although Kyrie Irving posted 11 points while playing all 12 minutes, the Celtics’ shooting regressed all the way down to 41.7%. Miami players contributed to a balanced offensive effort which lead to them leading the Celtics 28-24 at the end of the first quarter.

In his in-between quarter interview, Brad Stevens said, “we just got too jumpshot happy.” That’s exactly what was wrong with Boston’s shot selection which led to their deficit. Marcus Morris led Boston’s second unit in the second quarter, helping them prevent Miami’s lead from ballooning.

The referees really took a “let them play” approach in the first half. Boston was only whistled for 2 violations while Miami was called for only 4 fouls. Some of that was the jumpshot-heavy offense by both teams and some of it was, well, you know. Miami’s depth continued to shine, with 7 players scoring more than 5 points led by Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow with 10 points apiece.

Miami really took off in the second half of the second quarter, behind solid defense (Boston’s offense did them a lot of favors) and making what felt like every 3-point attempt. Following a Derrick Jones Jr. buzzer-beating 3-pointer, the Heat led the Celtics 61-43 at the half.

The start of the third quarter was even uglier. Miami’s lead jumped all the way out to 26. In a complete reversal of what happened against Indiana the night prior, Boston’s effort was woefully lackluster. 4 minutes into the third, Brad Stevens looked to Robert Williams III over Daniel Theis, and his presence definitely helped in the interior. The Time Lord did exactly what he was subbed in to do, giving the Celtics a shot in the arm to boost them both offensively and defensively. He was excellent.

Boston scored 16 straight points after Williams subbed in. 16. Boston’s defense was crisp with Marcus Smart and Williams coordinating and quarterbacking players on that end. In just 4 minutes, Boston’s 16-0 run was an immense boost of energy. Boston’s defense led to offensive opportunity for the rest of the quarter.

In particular, Smart (9 points in just the third quarter) seemed like he gained more offensive energy with each stop that the Celtics got defensively. The run started with this:

And it all culminated with this tremendous highlight and early candidate for defensive play of the year:

Smart and the Celtics cut their deficit to just 11 at the end of the third quarter, trailing the Heat 83-72 to enter the fourth.

As Stevens went to the Rozier-Ojeleye-Brown-Hayward-Horford lineup, things went bleak really quickly. Throughout the second half, Dwyane Wade decided to punish the Celtics one more time for old time’s sake, but that lineup to start the fourth really helped him out. Turnover after turnover after bad shot characterized the first 3 minutes of the fourth quarter. It was ugly, and the Heat lead jumped back up to 19 quickly.

Thankfully, the Celtics employ Marcus Smart. Continuing where he left off in the third, Smart immediately checked in to establish discipline, hitting 3-point bomb after 3-point bomb. With 6:41 left in the game, Stevens finally went with what worked in the third, trotting out the Smart-Irving-Tatum-Morris-Williams lineup.

Unfortunately, the hole was too deep. A couple of timely shots from Miami put the game out of reach despite Smart and Williams’ best efforts. The Celtics got tremendous effort out of the 6 guys who went on that 16-0 run. They didn’t get much else from anyone else. Miami came away with the victory over the Celtics with a final score of 115-99.

Smart finished with 18 points on 4-8 shooting from 3. Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris both had 17. Al Horford was a game-worst -26 with just 2 points, and Gordon Hayward scored 6 points but was a -20 on the night. For Miami, Justise Winslow notched a career-high 11 assists.

The Celtics stay in Florida for a Saturday matchup against the Orlando Magic at 7PM EST.