1. This version of the Takeaways is going to have a bit of a different feel. Usually, we try to be balanced and more positive. Unfortunately, the Celtics didn’t give us a lot to feel good about in losing to the Heat. A few things were good: Jaylen Brown’s energy got Boston back in the game in the second half. Enes Kanter was terrific off the bench. Jayson Tatum got some stuff going to the basket. Kemba Walker is healthy.
That’s about it for positives. Let’s look at what went wrong, because there were a lot of things to see there.
2. The Celtics never led and fell behind by as many as 16 points. Just like in the loss to the Bucks, it takes a lot to come back. Often, the trailing team doesn’t have the energy to get over the hump.
Brad Stevens was asked about the slow starts postgame. As he is prone to do, Stevens didn’t want to take away from the opponent, but he did say “We need to be prepared to play better from the start.” At least it’s recognized. Now, will they do anything about it?
3. A big part of Boston’s issue was struggling with Miami’s zone defense. The Heat play more zone than anyone. You know it’s coming at some point during the game. But, as they were in the previous matchups, the Celtics looked completely flummoxed by the zone for long stretches. Eventually, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward started driving the gaps and forced Miami out of the zone. But it took far too long to get there.
Another struggle was ball movement. Boston has never done as much standing around as they did in this game. The stats back that, as they had just 15 assists on 37 baskets compared to 16 turnovers. That’s not Celtics basketball. Celtics basketball is the ball and players moving repeatedly throughout possessions. Not watching guys go 1-on-1 early in the clock.
4. Boston’s initial defense most possessions was pretty good. The problem was defending secondary actions by Miami. The Heat run a lot of stuff. They usually start by running their shooters off a maze of screens. If that’s not there, they immediately go into a pick-and-roll game. Or, if it’s late in the shot-clock, they’ll go ISO. The pick-and-roll and ISO ball is usually Jimmy Butler’s game, but that fell to Goran Dragic, who was excellent with Butler sidelined by a sore ankle.
On those secondary actions, the Celtics defense broke down at an alarming rate. That’s a matter of keeping focus throughout an entire possession and not getting lazy late. And of course, a possession doesn’t end until you have the ball. Boston did a terrible job taking care of their own glass, but more on that later.
5. Boston made some curious decisions defensively as well. More than a few times they doubled Kelly Olynyk when he had a smaller defender. The Celtics should know better than anyone that Olynyk isn’t really a scoring threat from the post, because he’s generally going to take jumpers. But what Olynyk can do is kill you with his passing, which he did with eight assists. Here is an example of a bad decision to double Olynyk. Semi Ojeleye doesn’t need help guarding Olynyk. It directly led to an offensive rebound by Andre Iguodala because Boston wasn’t matched up properly after the double, which later led to a three-pointer by Iguodala:
6. Late in the first half, Brad Stevens went to the so-called “Best 5” lineup of Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum. That group played together from the 3:29 mark to the 0:29 mark of the second quarter. Miami outscored Boston 10-2 in that three-minute stretch and turned a six-point game into a 14-point game.
Those may be Boston’s best five players, but playing them together isn’t something that really works. Too many guys need the ball on offense. On defense, the Celtics are far too small to compete with this group on the floor together. Bam Adebayo had an offensive rebound for a dunk and drew six free throws during this stretch alone.
In a scrambling, catch-up mode situation, this lineup could work. But in a close game, it’s probably one Stevens should keep on the shelf.
7. The Celtics defensive communication has been off for the first three games. It’s especially noticeable when Kemba Walker is in the game. That’s to be expected, as Walker is still working his way back. As you can see here, everyone executes perfectly, but Walker. Jaylen Brown jumps out on Duncan Robinson after the screen, while Daniel Theis picks up Bam Adebayo in the paint. Walker chases Robinson and doesn’t execute the switch onto Kelly Olynyk. That leaves Olynyk wide-open for the corner three. You can see Walker’s head drop immediately because he knows he blew his assignment:
8. This was one to forget for Marcus Smart. He just looked out of sorts. Smart fouled out with 3:46 to play in the third quarter. Smart picked up a bunch of fouls early trying to guard Adebayo. That seemed to take him out of the game, as he wasn’t able to be aggressive defensively and his offensive impact was muted. Rare game where Smart’s only impact was a negative one.
9. Brad Wanamaker takes a lot of heat from Celtics fans. He’s not flashy. He’s not young and brimming with potential. He’s best described as steady. Occasionally he’s more, and occasionally he’s less. In this game Wanamaker was less. He scored eight points, but he had three turnovers and this play was kind of emblematic of his and Boston’s night. It’s a bad turnover and then Wanamaker gives an extremely soft foul on Adebayo which led to an and-1:
10. Yet, despite all the bad play, Boston was still in the game late. Unfortunately, the old bugaboo of not taking care of their own glass came back to haunt them:
That’s a rebound you have to get if you’re the Celtics. Miami grabbed 12 offensive boards on the night, which led to 20 second chance points. In a game where you worked so hard to get back in it, offensive rebounds are crushing. And in this case, this one more or less ended the Boston’s chances.