1. Generally, on a re-watch of the game before writing the Takeaways, some things that were missed live are seen. This time? It was just re-watching the same bad stuff for a second time. It was bad and it all played out in real-time. Nothing really new was gleaned, simply confirmed.
There isn’t any sugar-coating happening in today’s Takeaways. Did good stuff happen? Of course. But the bad more than outweighed it. That’s the focus for this version.
2. The elephant in the room for Boston is going against the Miami zone defense. The Heat played more zone than anyone in the regular season, then large scrapped it in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Against the Celtics, it’s come back in a major way. In Game 2, Boston was carving up Miami’s switching defense. The Heat went zone for a bit in the first half, but largely stay man-to-man.
In the start of the second half, for almost the entirety of the third quarter and lots of the fourth, Miami went back to their extended 2-3. It almost looks like a sliding 3-2 at times, because if Boston doesn’t keep a player in the corner, that man slides up to pressure on the wing.
For the Celtics, they did make some adjustments. For 8 straight possessions, Marcus Smart was stationed at the nail (middle of the free throw line). On those plays, the Celtics got five open jumpers, two contested shots and turned it over once. The other adjustment Boston made was to put Jaylen Brown in the corner. The Heat were late to react to it and Brown got a couple of good looks.
Making those adjustments is great, but it begs the question: What took so long? Why was the game already in Miami’s control by the time it happened?
3. The above is where criticism of Brad Stevens comes in. The Celtics have been slow to adjust to zone looks for two straight series now. You can forgive some of the Toronto series, because they were switching defenses from play to play. Miami is running the same 2-3, but executing it at a very high level, along with some great effort. But Boston knows it’s coming. They should be better prepared for it by now.
The other valid criticism of Stevens is his rotations. He made a great call by going to Enes Kanter (and Romeo Langford, for all of 81 seconds before he got hurt again) in the first half. Kanter was terrific and was giving Miami fits inside. In the second half, Stevens tried to run it back. It didn’t go nearly as well and Bam Adebayo got out of the box. It wasn’t all on Kanter (nor Daniel Theis either), but it was a major issue.
Also, on the topic of rotations, no Robert Williams at all. That seemed like an issue, especially when the Celtics looked like they needed an energy infusion. Grant Williams’ time continues to yo-yo. Stevens is clearly searching for the big rotation he wants and coming up empty.
On the minor plus side, it seemed as if the plan was for Romeo Langford to get run as a backup wing. Unfortunately, he strained his right adductor after just 81 seconds. That put Semi Ojeleye back in the rotation and he struggled once again.
4. Holding leads is a clear issue for Boston. They blew a 17-point lead in this game. It stands out most on offense, but the defense is having just as many problems. The Celtics just aren’t connected the way they need to be. This low, sideline camera angle usually stinks, but here it’s instructive. Enes Kanter does a good job against Tyler Herro in pick and roll. The problem is when Bam Adebayo slips the screen (or never really sets it), Jaylen Brown never comes in to help from the weakside:
Yes, it’s Duncan Robinson in the corner, but the first priority is to protect the paint. You can see Kanter asking Brown to drop in at the end of the clip. It’s just one of many examples of Boston’s defense not being on the same page.
5. How about closing games? Ooooof. That’s maybe even worse than Boston looks as they blow leads. Game tied at 95-all. Plenty of time on the shot-clock. What is Marcus Smart doing here?
It was one of a few questionable shots that Smart took throughout the game.
Even worse, and completely unacceptable is this lack of effort on the glass:
Four Celtics in the paint and none of them jump and none of them put a body on Bam Adebayo. Adebayo easily grabs the rebound. If it wasn’t for a fumble out of bounds, Miami likely would have ended the game right here.
6. To use a line from elementary school: The Celtics had more turnovers than a bakery. 20 of them to be exact, which led to 26 points for the Heat. That jumps off the page in a 5-point loss.
Boston had all sorts of turnovers. They had three off inbounds passes. Two after ATOs. They had their pocket picked while dribbling. They threw passes away. By this count, they had eight turnovers against the zone. Here were a few of the more egregious ones.
Miami is scrambling after a deflection. Jayson Tatum rushes the pass and Jaylen Brown can’t make a clean catch. This is a pretty simple play that gets botched:
Kemba Walker telegraphs this one. Pure effort and hustle from Jimmy Butler to get the steal and dunk. But…why do the Celtics quit on the play? Both Tatum and Daniel Theis stopped running back. Theis won’t get back, but Tatum probably could have:
And here’s one of those three turnovers off inbounds passes. It’s a great play by Butler again, but this shouldn’t happen late in close games:
7. In Game 1, Boston put Miami in the bonus very early in the fourth quarter. In Game 2, the Celtics put the Heat in the bonus early in the third quarter. It didn’t bite them at the free throw line, as Miami only took two of them. Where it did show up was with some passive defense out of fear of fouling. The Heat either got easy looks inside or wide-open jumpers.
8. Kemba Walker hit a pull-up jumper with 3:24 to go in the third quarter. The next time Boston made a basket (non-free throw) was with 8:04 to play in the fourth quarter.
That’s 7:20 of game-time without a made basket. The Celtics did manage to hit eight free throws during that stretch, but you aren’t winning many games when you go over half a quarter without hitting a shot from the field.
9. Semi-related to Takeaways 7 and 8, the Celtics got themselves into the bonus with 8:31 to play in the fourth quarter. That was how Miami won Game 1. They lived at the line in the final period and chipped away at Boston’s lead.
The Celtics? They took two free throws. Jaylen Brown went 1-for-2 after driving and picking up a foul on Bam Adebayo. That was it. Two whole free throws. It was all jumpers and turnovers as the game was salted away by the Heat.
10. So…is the season lost? In short, no. Not even close.
To go longer, there are still reasons to believe. Gordon Hayward may play in Game 3 and that would be a huge boon to Boston. Hayward will provide some much-needed depth. He’s also Boston’s best player against the zone, which is also sorely needed.
Beyond that, the Celtics have been in this spot before, against Jimmy Butler no less. In 2016, Boston was down 0-2 to Butler’s Chicago Bulls. The Celtics won the next four. Of course, this Miami team is better than that Chicago team, but it’s been done before.
Beyond beyond that, the last two teams to win the Eastern Conference Finals were down 0-2. The Toronto Raptors came from behind to beat the Milwaukee Bucks last season and the Cleveland Cavaliers did it to Boston season before that.
Beyond beyond beyond that, Boston lost by three and five points. They could, and arguably should, have won both games. They aren’t getting blown out. Both Games 1 and 2 were right there.
It’s going to mean the Celtics stay together as a team. There were reports of postgame shouting and things being thrown in the locker room. The Athletic reported that the primary argument was between Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, and many reported seeing Smart leave the locker room angry. For what it’s worth, Brown, Brad Stevens, Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum all downplayed the incident. Brown even said that passion is what the team loves Smart for.
Sometimes when everything is at its lowest point, you need a good fight to rally together. The Celtics better hope that’s the case here, or their season will be on the brink of being over.
Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals is on Saturday, September 19 at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN.