There is no two ways about it. That was a bad, bad loss for this Celtics team against a Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat who were on the second night of a tough back-to-back. A win would have virtually guaranteed the C’s the 3rd seed in this year’s playoffs, but the loss allowed Miami to close the gap down to just 1.5 games. Nonetheless, in this hectic NBA restart setting, there’s no time to hang your head, with another game tonight against the Brooklyn Nets.
However, there were positives in the loss. Boston did a great job of attacking the basket, shooting 23/32 (71.8% - 78th percentile per Cleaning The Glass) at the rim while also drawing five fouls. For a team that has, on the year, struggled to convert around the hoop (23rd in the league at 61.8% per CTG) and only gets to the rim with average frequency, it was encouraging to see them make such a concerted effort to get to--and finish--in the restricted area.
With Butler out and Kelly Olynyk inserted into the starting lineup, the Heat’s Bam Adebayo was forced to move down a position and guard Jaylen Brown, leaving Olynyk to patrol the paint and defend Daniel Theis. While he’s a weapon from deep offensively, Olynyk isn’t a great rim protector. Getting to the rim seemed to be a focus for the Celtics from the get-go, with Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward both getting inside early in the opening minutes. Brown had Bam Adebayo chasing him around and once he had a step on his man, did a great job of not settling for the jumper and getting all the way to the cup to finish over Jae Crowder.
We see how Hayward does a great job of keeping Duncan Robinson on his hip while Theis executes a textbook seal to get his teammate the early dunk.
In fact, rim protection has been an issue for the Heat all year, with opposing teams shooting 65.8% (5th highest in the league) around the basket against them. The Adebayo-at-center minutes allows them great versatility and the ability to switch but the one part of his defensive game that’s still coming along is his rim protection and Boston took full advantage all night.
While the Heat lead wire-to-wire, the Celtics best stretch came in the third quarter, when a 15-1 run brought a 15-point Miami lead all the way down to one at 69-68. Boston got back into the game by simply going right at the center of the Heat’s defense. Of the fifteen points scored on the run, 10 came at the rim with another 2 coming from Hayward free throws.
What is also notable in these clips is just how assertive the Celtics were during that stretch. Jaylen Brown, in particular, seemed notably aggressive, with all three of his layups coming in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock. Duncan Robinson and Jae Crowder just weren’t athletic enough to keep up with him, and Brown did a great job of recognizing and taking advantage of that early.
Post-season basketball can often be slower and more physical. Despite what was an otherwise unconvincing performance, the Celtics’ success attacking the hoop against Miami showed an added dimension to their game that could be crucial going forward in the playoffs.