Erik Spoelstra only discussed catching up with family over the four-day layoff between Game 3 and 4. He waved off his presser shortly after Game 3 and if you based this football-induced gap between games off the two minutes he spoke yesterday, you’d think he spent the last few days on FaceTime rather than game planning for Game 4.
Miami Heat reporters preempt their questions with “without giving too much away,” as both teams refuse to touch strategy with reporters in this series. Asked what’s wrong with the Celtics after Brad Stevens said he had a few ideas following Game 4 of the Toronto series, Stevens played it cagey, too. The Celtics and Heat, with schemes and personnel, changed approaches for only short stints in Games 1 through 3, allowing the other team a peek behind the curtain before pulling it shut.
“I don’t know that that would be the smartest thing I’ve ever done,” Stevens said then. “I’ve probably done some not-so-smart things before, but I’ll keep those to us right now. But there’s a couple of things that we need to do different.”
Consider Stevens’ strategy with back-up center duties. Foul trouble plagued Daniel Theis in all three games to start this series. He picked up his fourth personal early in the third quarter on Saturday night. Stevens experimented with Enes Kanter in the first halves of Games 2 and 3, shifting away from Robert Williams III minutes. Grant Williams received the backup five role in the second halves, an attempt to cut up the zone and find a studier body to front Bam Adebayo.
Williams immediately extended his playoff three-point shooting spark to 10-for-16. He isolated the center of the zone on a post-up into a layup and provided spacing for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to pick up buckets inside and push the Celtics ahead by 18.
The Heat stayed persistent targeting Williams, working a pair of Adebayo makes inside, a Jimmy Butler three-point play on a switch, and a Goran Dragic transition take through him. Williams, sturdy for over two minutes, ended the night -11. Miami, on the other hand, tried unsuccessfully during the same sequence to integrate All-Rookie First Teamer Kendrick Nunn into the series for four minutes.
Through three games, the series has had many unexpected twists and turns. Miami shifted away from their zone in Game 3--presumably because of the return of Gordon Hayward-- and even bench Jimmy Butler later in the fourth quarter when the Heat were on the verge of another comeback.
Jae Crowder has talked about Kemba Walker guarding him in an effort to get Marcus Smart on Goran Dragic (-29 in Game 3) and Kanter’s placement on Andre Iguodala. Crowder didn’t get into specific details, but his acknowledgement of him shooting exclusively threes (2-for-10) against the Walker coverage seemed to hint at a more aggressive approach in Game 4.
The Heat did try to expose Kanter like they did in Game 2, though the awkward use of Iguodala as a roller contributed to their worst turnover night since the second round. Iguodala entered the night with back spasms leaving his status uncertain. Spoelstra played him for seven minutes, at one point alongside Derrick Jones Jr., Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Kelly Olynyk that posted a 50.0 offensive rating in three minutes.
Boston thrived with its Best Five lineup to storm into halftime on a 9-2 run. CelticsBlog’s Keith Smith expanded on the group’s potential and limitation, which remain uncertain given their lack of availability and cohesion throughout the season. In previous attempts, it struggled due to rebounding and defensive size concerns. In Game 4’s experiment, Walker-Smart-Brown-Tatum-Hayward ramped up the C’s pace and they scored at will.
That lineup could potentially raise the ceiling of this group to champions, with no remaining team able to pack that much talent on the floor at once. Stevens used that combination sparingly on Saturday for under seven minutes, but it produced a +86 net rating and threw yet another curveball into the Heat’s kitchen.
“We have to get more crisp with that group,” Stevens said. “But certainly in the playoffs, the more you can play your best players the better, and they’re our five best.”
Spoelstra discussed intentionality on Miami’s part after the Game 3 loss. To him, this moment involves combining intensity with thought, expecting that nothing will come easily or immediately. He pointed to Duncan Robinson adjusting to attacks on him in the second half of the game to avoid further foul trouble.
There’s the game on the floor, but for Heat-Celtics, there’s also the game behind the game behind the game. History and ill will runs deep between the franchises. Stevens and Spoelstra have talked glowingly about each other and their teams. Their submarines will surface simultaneously when they see each other often on their daily walks around the bubble. They’re friendly, but obviously, what’s unsaid speaks volumes.
Of course, this goes beyond the head coaches. A feud between Pat Riley and Danny Ainge dates back to the ‘80’s when Riley coached the Lakers and Ainge played alongside Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. After his return in Game 4, Hayward talked about his admiration for the Heat organization after nearly signing up with Spoelstra and Riley three years ago. Two former Celtics, Crowder and Olynyk, who were partly responsible for laying down the groundwork for Stevens’ early success in Boston are now installments of Heat Culture.
And on Monday, Butler acknowledged a rivalry between the coaches. “I guess you could say there’s some dislike between coaches and coaches, and players and players,” Butler alluded to. “Obviously what happens in the locker room, you try to keep that there. It’s just competition...that’s the way that you like it, there’s no friends between the lines. Save that for after the game.”