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Boston’s defense grinds Miami into dust: 10 takeaways from Celtics-Heat

Tough defense and a standout performance from the bench led the Celtics to their biggest win of the young season

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

We’ve got a special edition of 10 Takeaways for you guys today, as I’ve staged a coup generously offered to fill in for Keith to break down Celtics-Heat. Let’s talk about Boston’s biggest win of the season thus far.

1 - Iron-clad defense

The story of Boston’s big win starts and ends on the defensive end of the ball, where they put together their most cohesive effort of the season. Miami managed just 70 points on the evening before waving the white flag and calling in the reserves, and for the night, the Celtics held them to a brutal 34% shooting from the floor.

Boston’s defense did its best work cutting off Miami’s transition attack. The Heat entered last night’s game averaging 14.9 points per game on the fast break, sixth-best in basketball. Against the Celtics, they scored five.

Unable to find much traction on the run, the Heat found themselves forced to rely on their half-court offense. These are the games that they acquired Kyle Lowry for, after all; the veteran point guard has the ability to juice their half-court attack in ways players like Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn could not.

Well, last night, the half-court wasn’t an option, either. The Celtics’ switching defense had an answer for every single wrinkle the Heat introduced. If the Celtics really are going to steady their season, it’s going to start with their defense. Tonight provided an emphatic example of just how good that defense can be.

2 - The Big Run

On Wednesday against Orlando, the Celtics did their best work in the third quarter, where they outscored the Magic 31-10 en route to a comfortable win. Last night against Miami, it was the second, where they outscored the Heat 33-9 en route to a comfortable win. Perhaps the Celtics really like playing in Florida.

The bulk of the damage came in what I’m calling The Big Run. With eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, Romeo Langford snared an offensive rebound and went straight back up for a second-chance dunk. From that play onwards, the Celtics outscored the Heat 23-5.

It was easily the most impressive stretch of basketball these Celtics have played all year. The Heat were almost comically unable to execute anything, while Boston ground their way to tough points on the other. Miami coughed up five turnovers in the span of eight minutes.

3 - Langford and Nesmith step up

Josh Richardson did not suit up for Boston last night, sitting out the game due to a left foot contusion. That may very well have been a good thing, as the increased minutes afforded to youngsters Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith may have tipped the scales in the Celtics’ favor last night. Langford recorded a game-high +31 before Miami benched their starters, and continued his hot shooting from deep with a pair of three-pointers.

Nesmith, meanwhile, cashed in 13 points in 18 minutes of playing time, paired with his typical energetic defense. I recently discussed Nesmith’s absence from the lineup. The conclusions from that article bore out here; it just seems silly for Nesmith to have been buried on the bench due to 10 missed shots (most of which were good looks). The Nesmith we saw tonight wasn’t inherently different from the one was saw before. It’s just that the shots were falling this time.

That said, this layup from the first quarter? That’s a fun new wrinkle. Nice seal from Grant Williams, too.

Richardson was a reasonable snag as a reclamation project coming into the season, but to this point, there’s a clear case to be made that his minutes would be better spent divvied up between the youngsters. Langford especially belongs on the court — he’s making some tremendous plays.

4 - These Heat jerseys stink

Alright, we have to step aside from the game itself for a moment to talk about these Heat jerseys. Recently unveiled along with the rest of the league’s City Edition jerseys for the 2021-22 season, they’ve quickly become the butt of a lot of jokes for how much they resemble a ransom note.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

To be fair, it’s hard to follow up jersey as good as those Miami Vice ones. And I do see the vision behind them. It’s a conglomeration of previous logos and numbers the Heat have used on past jerseys. I don’t even mind the ransom note “MIAMI” text, to be honest. I wouldn’t wear it myself (and not just out of team loyalty; I own a Miami Vice Dwyane Wade jersey), but it’s fine.

The problem is that double-digit numbers are split into two different fonts and colors. It just looks weird! There are four numbers in this image and each of them is a different color. This image will drive me to madness.

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

5 - No-Jays lineups?

A shorter-lived curiosity occurred in this game a little while before The Big Run — a stretch without Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown on the court. With 2:23 remaining in the first quarter, Al Horford entered the game for Brown, creating a lineup of himself, Schröder, Langford, Nesmith and Grant Williams. It would turn into about four minutes of Jay-less basketball, Tatum returned to the game with 10:13 on the clock in the second quarter.

It wasn’t what you’d call a spectacular run — the Heat outscored the Celtics 10-7 across those four minutes — but it wasn’t a complete disaster, either. That may be good enough. Boston has played through a heavy workload in their first nine games of the season, and prior to tonight, just 29 of those minutes have come without one of Tatum or Brown on the court. Stealing some extra moments of rest for the duo might be beneficial for the Celtics in the long run.

6 - Tatum struggles to score, excels everywhere else

A solution for Tatum’s recent scoring slump wasn’t among the positive developments for the Celtics tonight. Tatum went scoreless through the first three quarters against Miami, and didn’t record a made basket until the eight minute mark of the fourth quarter, finishing 3-of-13 from the field on the evening.

To Tatum’s credit, he didn’t start forcing the issue once it was clear the shot wasn’t falling. Through the past four games of this slump, he averaged 23 shots, but tonight, that first made three was just his eighth attempt.

Instead, Tatum operated in a supporting capacity. He committed himself to the glass, helping solve another recent Celtics bugaboo by grabbing eight defensive rebounds (we’ll get to that), and had a solid performance defensively. This deflected kick-out in particular required every inch of his 6’11” wingspan.

The box score only shows two assists for Tatum last night, but that’s a misleading figure. He was a very active passer all evening, and kept the ball moving nicely.

7 - Appreciating a good play

Sometimes it’s nice to take a moment and enjoy a good play. This is a good play.

This is the Dennis Schröder Effect in 11 seconds. Everything comes together because of the pressure he puts on the rim off the bounce. The Celtics run a double drag for Schröder, and a monster screen from Tatum completely removes Tyler Herro from the equation (remember when I said Tatum found other ways to impact this game?). Boston now effectively has Schröder and Robert Williams in a 2-on-1 against Adebayo, forcing Markieff Morris over to help. Schröder kicks out to Langford, now without a defender even on the same side of the court as him, and the rest is history.

8 - Brown, Lowry leave due to injury

The second half saw two notable injuries worth keeping an eye on moving forward. In the third quarter, Kyle Lowry limped off after rolling his ankle in a collision with a teammate. He was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game, and the current diagnosis is a sprained ankle.

On the Celtics’ side, Jaylen Brown checked out of the game in the fourth quarter and was shortly thereafter ruled out for the remainder with hamstring tightness. “He had some tightness in his hamstring [...] we wanted to be cautious,” said Udoka, “He’ll be checked out tomorrow.

9 - Improvement on the glass

Another ongoing crisis for Boston has been their inability to reliably secure defensive rebounds. With Udoka’s heavy-switching scheme often leaving the bigs out in space defensively, they’ve had to rely on a gang-rebounding scheme to secure defensive boards. To this point, it hasn’t worked; coming into the Miami game, the Celtics had allowed offensive boards at the ninth-highest rate in basketball.

Last night’s game wasn’t perfect in that regard, as they still allowed Miami to secure 13 offensive rebounds. But it was a step in the right direction, especially considering the sheer amount of shots the Heat missed. Most of the trouble spots popped up as the Heat made a small rally in the fourth quarter, but otherwise, the Celtics came out on the winning end of contested rebounds more frequently than in games past.

10 - Al Horford, going fast

Closing this thing out, let’s just take a moment to admire the 35-year-old’s thunderous dunk at the end of the third quarter. I’m not sure Boston’s elder statesman has moved this fast since he was a Florida Gator.

Next up, the Celtics will look to see if they can reach their first three-game winning streak of the season as they travel to Dallas for a face-off on the road against the Mavericks.