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Celtics live and die by the 3 (and fail to defend it) in Miami

It just wasn’t Boston’s night against the Heat.

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

Blah blah blah the modern NBA blah blah blah variance blah blah blah make-or-miss league blah blah blah second game of a back-to-back blah blah blah Boston lost. All apologies, but that’s the extremely shorthand explanation of what happened in Miami last night. It wasn’t rebounding or turnovers or getting to the free throw line. The Celtics simply didn’t shoot well from behind the arc or defend the three-point against the Heat.

The Celtics and Heat are both in the top-10 in three-point field goal attempts per game; Boston is 2nd at 36.2 3FGA’s (36.7% 3FG%) and Miami is 8th 33.4 3FGA’s (33.4 3FG%). It may seem like a razor thin margin between the two teams on average, but in the randomness that comes from a leather ball flying twenty-five feet in the air at an iron rim, nights like Thursday night happen.

The Celtics shot a respectable 12-of-34 from behind the arc, but the Heat were, well, hot, hitting 18-of-39. Six more threes. Eighteen points. Miami won by sixteen. It may be an oversimplification, but sometimes the box score tells the story.

Boston did settle for jumpers in the first half. Brad Stevens noticed that after hitting a couple of shots early in the game, they didn’t attack as much:

“(What doomed us was) probably making all those shots at the start that were great shots, but we weren’t generating much into the paint, and we kept shooting tough, long, contested shots without much real attack until the middle of the third quarter,” Stevens told reporters after the game, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “And I think that showed in the fact that we had seven assists at halftime. They did a good job of imposing their will on us, which they’ve done a couple of times now in a row, and so hats off to them. But we may have fallen into that trap of making those early ones.”

This will be the identity crisis all year for the Celtics. Instinctively, I think they are what Jeff detailed yesterday: “now that the team is gelling and producing, it is becoming apparent that the team’s identity is centered around ball movement, team defense, and a deep and talented roster.”

Because of their talent level, they can win games just hitting a ton of 3’s and shooting their opponents out of the gym. When they shoot over 40% from 3, they’re a sparkling 11-1. From 33.3-40%, they’re 9-6. Anything below 33%, they’re 5-8. That’s the inherent problem with being a three-point shooting team. The variance can be frustrating. During the 4-game winning streak at the Garden, they shot a blistering 42.4% from behind the arc.

They didn’t exactly crash and burn against the Heat on offense, but their defense was atrocious. Last night’s game notwithstanding, the Celtics are still one of the better teams defending the 3 (4th in opponent 3FG% at 33.4%), but giving up 18-of-39 would be a death sentence for anybody. Per Second Spectrum player tracking, they allowed 26 of Miami’s 36 three-point attempts to be open or wide open. That’s unacceptable.

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