Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens seemed to like his team’s defensive play and effort for the opening few minutes of Tuesday’s tilt against the Miami Heat.
After that, Stevens was less than impressed.
The Heat met little resistance from the Celtics defense both on the perimeter and inside the paint en route to a 112-106 victory. Bam Adebayo bullied the Celtics down low into recording a double-double of 21 points and 12 rebounds while the Heat also got clean looks off from beyond the arc regularly to shoot 34.3 percent (15-for-43) from deep.
“They did a great job cutting and we weren’t solid and they exposed that,” Stevens said. “Our defense has to improve from what it’s been in the first three games. But credit Miami, they played with unbelievable intensity and togetherness and I thought they were clearly the better team.
“I thought we started off defending really well in the first three minutes. We were very active, very locked in, very engaged. We missed a few shots and for whatever reason it went downhill (defensively) from there.”
Celtics defense is allowing 118 points per 100 possessions in Orlando bubble. Only Blazers and Sixers have been worse on D out of the 22 bubble teams.— Brian Robb (@BrianTRobb) August 5, 2020
The Celtics also struggled to play defense without fouling, committing 26 fouls compared to the Heat’s 19. Adebayo’s size and athleticism posed a major problem for the C’s that they never figured out throughout the contest and ended up fouling him routinely to try to slow him down.
Stop him. We dare you. pic.twitter.com/gzvSsS1Rrx— x - Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) August 4, 2020
It didn’t really work as Adebayo took 18 trips to the free-throw line through three quarters as the Celtics as a team had just 22 free-throw attempts during that span. Boston’s best defender Marcus Smart was put in a tough position trying to defend the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Adebayo at times and racked up fouls until he picked up his sixth and final infraction with 3:46 left in the third quarter.
Foul trouble wasn’t just an issue for Smart as Tatum had five fouls and Stevens made sure to highlight the lack of a defensive pushback in the interior.
“We’re fouling because they’re getting the ball so deep,” Stevens said. “The post fouls, they’re just getting it deep and they’re using their strength and size. We’re going to have to not allow the ball to get deep. We’re going to have to figure that out. At the beginning of the year, I thought we guarded with great intensity and we kept the ball out of the paint. We’re not doing as good of a job now at keeping the ball out of the paint. If it gets down there, we’re toast.”
The Heat sure know how to stretch a defense with its plethora of wings and guards able to spot up from beyond the arc and knock down treys consistently. The Celtics defensive rotations looked sloppy, as sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, who went 5-for-11 from downtown, drew a ton of attention, leaving his teammates uncovered due to late rotations. Six different members of the Heat knocked down at least one 3-pointer, including all four players off the bench as Miami’s reserves produced 43 points (comparatively the Celtics bench scored 24 points).
While Smart’s defensive prowess usually is enough to lift up the Celtics unit and will certainly help going forward, it will take more than just Boston’s defensive stopper to hold down multidimensional attacks like Miami.
“Defense is a collective effort,” Tatum said. “It isn’t one man’s job, it’s not two guys, it’s everybody on the floor, talking, communicating, following the game plan and being on the same page. We can’t leave it up to one guy. It’s a team thing.”