The Celtics arrive at Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals down 2 games to none to the Miami Heat. The Celtics have led by double digits in the first two games, controlling the first half in both games, only to collapse in the second half and allow the Heat to out play them in both games.
All hope is not lost, however. The Celtics lost by 3 and 5 points and were in the games right up until the end and they pretty much beat themselves. History gives them reason to have hope. The last 2 Eastern Conference champions started their series down 0-2. Last year, Toronto was down 0-2 to the Bucks and came back to win the conference. In 2018, Cleveland was down 0-2 to the Celtics in the ECF and came back to win the series.
In 2016, the Celtics were down 0-2 to a Chicago Bulls team that was led by Jimmy Butler. They won the next 4 games to win the series in 6. But, the problems plaguing this Celtics team involve a lack of cohesion and a lack of effort from the players. There was a big blow up in the locker room after Game 2 that wasn’t a good look for the players involved.
Hopefully differences were smoothed over in a late night meeting at the hotel between Smart, Brown, Walker, Tatum and Brad Stevens. Reportedly, along with smoothing out differences, they discussed the best way to incorporate Gordon Hayward into the rotation should he come back in Game 3.
Hayward has been out since the first game of the first round with a grade 3 sprain of his ankle. He has been upgraded to questionable for this game and it is hopeful he can return for Game 3. His return would definitely give the Celtics a needed boost, but what they really need is a shot of urgency.
Javonte Green has been out after having a procedure done on his knee and has been upgraded to probable for this game. Romeo Langford played just 81 seconds in Game 2 before leaving with a hip injury and is listed as out for this game. For the Heat, Andre Iguodala is listed as probable with back spasms and Chris Silva is out with a pelvis injury.
It goes without saying that this is a must win game for the Celtics. As noted above plenty of teams have come back from being down 0-2 to win a series, including the last two Eastern Conference Champions. No team has ever come back from being down 0-3 to win a series, however and so the Celtics need a sense of urgency and to realize that their backs are against the wall.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Javonte Green (knee) probable
Gordon Hayward (ankle) questionable
Romeo Langford (hip) out
Probable Heat Starters
Derrick Jones, Jr
Chris Silva (pelvis) out
Andre Iguodala (back) probable
Daniel Theis vs Bam Adebayo
In Game 1, Adebayo had a key block to preserve the win for the Heat. In Game 2, he came up big in the second half, scoring more field goals in the 3rd quarter than the entire Celtics team. He went in for dunk after dunk with little opposition from the Celtics. He finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. He shot 62.5% from the field. Adebayo has been a thorn in the Celtics’ sides and the Celtics need to somehow limit him, whether it is with Theis, Grant Williams, Robert Williams, or Enes Kanter.
Kemba Walker vs Goran Dragic
Kemba struggled in the Raptors series and he struggled once again in Game 1 of this series. He seemed to bounce back somewhat in Game 2 with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Dragic has given the Celtics problems in both games, averaging 27 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He shot 53% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc in Game 2. He scored 9 points in the crucial 4th quarter. The Celtics need to find a way to get Kemba going and also to slow Dragic down.
Jaylen Brown vs Jimmy Butler
Butler finished Game 2 with 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. He shot just 36% from the field and was 0-1 from 3. He had a huge steal and dunk to help seal the game for the Heat. Jaylen scored 21 points on 57% shooting and was 50% on 3 pointers but Butler was the more aggressive player, especially on defense. The Celtics will need Jaylen to be more aggressive in Game 3.
Jayson Tatum vs Jae Crowder
Crowder finished Game 1 with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist. He shot 64% from the field and 56% from beyond the arc. In Game 2, he came back down to earth with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals, shooting just 33% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc. Jayson finished Game 2 with 21 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, but was just 0-2 from three. He needs to be more aggressive, especially on defense and on the boards.
Keys to the Game
Defense- Defense is the biggest key to winning playoff games. The Heat went to zone defense in the second half of Game 2 and the Celtics only scored 25 points on 32 possessions against it. Over the 2 games, the Celtics scored just 41 points over 48 possessions against the zone defense. First and foremost, the Celtics must find a way to beat the Heat’s zone defense. The return of Gordon Hayward could help there as he is the best Celtics against the zone.
Second, the Celtics can’t allow offensive struggles to affect their defense. Boston’s defensive rating in the 4th quarter of Game 2 was 166.7. I don’t think they could have done much worse unless they stayed in the locker room at the half. The Celtics’ identity has been as a lock down defensive team. They have played great defense in the first half but for some reason, in the 3rd and 4th quarters, they have let their defense slip to the point where the Heat have had very little opposition to their offense. The Celtics MUST recommit to playing tough in your face defense for 48 minutes.
Rebound - In Game 1, Miami out rebounded the Celtics 41-37. In game 2 the Celtics out rebounded the Heat 41-38 but in the 4th quarter, there were a couple of times that 3 or 4 Celtics stood around while they watched a Heat player swoop in for the rebound. Miami had 8 offensive rebounds in the second half, after grabbing just 3 in the first half. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle. The Celtics showed neither in the second half of Game 2. They have to put out maximum effort for 48 minutes if they hope to win Game 3.
Play Hard 48 Minutes- The Celtics played hard for 3 quarters and were up 12 points going into the 4th quarter of Game 1. They were up 17 points in the first half of Game 2. Then, they got complacent and let their foot off the gas and allowed the Heat to be the more aggressive team and to play harder in the second half of both games. The Celtics must come out strong to start the game and not let up until the end, regardless of the score. They have to want it more and play like it from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Play Team Ball - The Celtics need to keep the ball moving and play team ball. The Celtics have played as a team in the first half of both games so far and built leads that way. In the second half of both games, they went away from playing as a team and there was way too much of players trying to win it by themselves. Hero ball rarely ends well as they become predictable and are much easier to defend. They have to make the extra pass and find the open man and the best shot and play as a team on every possession and not allow the Heat’s defense to take them away from that.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics turned the ball over 20 times in Game 2 to only 9 turnovers for the Heat. The Heat scored 26 points off those 20 turnovers. The Celtics have to focus on their ball handling and not allow the Heat to swoop in for steals. They have to focus on making good passes and not allow the Heat to slip into the passing lanes and steal the ball. It comes down to having laser like focus and not getting sloppy.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics began both games so far as the more aggressive team. They built leads in the first half in both games. For whatever reason, they have come out in the second half a step behind and playing timid on both ends of the court. They have allowed the Heat to be the more aggressive team in the second half of both games. The Celtics have to be more aggressive from start to finish. They have to play like they want it more, especially in the second half. They can’t let their foot off the gas.
Coaching - So far, Erik Spoelstra has out-coached Brad Stevens in both Games 1 and 2. He has made the adjustments at the half to go to zone defense and his players have come out of halftime fired up. The Celtics have been flustered by the Heat’s defense and their aggressiveness and haven’t been able to counter it. Hopefully Brad was able to help the Celtics resolve their issues after Game 2 and will have them ready for whatever the Heat throw at them in Game 3.
Hayward’s Return - Gordon Hayward is hoping to return for Game 3. This should give the Celtics a boost and another player who can create his own shot and most importantly, a player who plays well against the zone. There may be some growing pains as they try to incorporate him back into the rotation. I expect that he will come off the bench and also have a minutes restriction in his first game back.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor in every game. Every crew officiates differently. Some call it tight, others let them play. While there isn’t really a home court advantage in the bubble, some refs may simulate one with their calls. Some just make bad, head scratching calls as we have seen in several of the games in the first 2 rounds. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the refs call the game and not let bad calls take away their focus. The officiating hasn’t been terrible in the first two games. Hopefully that trend will continue in this game.
None of the 3 referees for today’s game stand out as being bad refs. Zach Zarba is one of the better referees in the league. Both teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games with Zarba as an official. He called Game 1 vs PHI and Games 2 and 7 vs TOR. Game 7 was one of the better officiated games in the playoffs. The Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10 with Lewis while the Heat are6-4 in their last 10. Lewis called PHI Game 4 and TOR Game 5. The Celtics are 4-6 in their last 10 with Fraher and the Heat are 5-5. Fraher called Game 1 vs PHI.