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Lack of composure leads to a loss: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Heat

Boston had issues with Miami’s physical play and the officiating and let it throw them off their game in a second loss in a row

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

1. We’re going to start this version of the Takeaways with the negatives, but then we’re going to close with some positives. Kind of the opposite of the way the game itself played out.

As Ime Udoka, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum all said postgame, this was the kind of game the Boston Celtics will face in the playoffs. As they’ve been dominating teams, one thing has been clear: the Celtics wear you down. Boston amps up the physicality and eventually other teams shrink.

The Miami Heat not only didn’t shrink, they embraced and matched the physical nature of the game. That was a challenge for a Boston team that has gotten used to being the bullies on the block.

And, yes, the Celtics had some composure issues. There was a lot of complaining to the officials all night and they reverted back to the one-on-one stuff late that plagued them earlier in the season.

Yet, Boston didn’t play well at all, but they were in the game with a minute to go. That says these are hopefully fixable issues, as opposed to a reoccurrence of bad habits from the first few months of the season.

2. You had a feeling things were heading in the wrong direction at the end of the first half. After taking a 52-47 lead with just over a minute to play before the break, Boston suffered a mini-meltdown. They allowed Miami to score the final six points of the half, all at the free throw line. That stretch obviously included multiple fouls, but Jayson Tatum also picked up a technical foul and a turnover, while Jaylen Brown missed a layup.

Then, to open the third quarter, the Heat started the half on a 16-6 push to open an 11-point lead. Yes, the Celtics responded with a 16-0 run to retake the lead, but this was clearly a situation where Miami had Boston frustrated for a longer than ideal stretch of the game.

3. The turnovers…so many turnovers! 19 in total, which led to 24 points for the Heat. Even with that being a somewhat poor conversion rate, it was enough to make the difference in a close game.

The real bummer is that the 19 giveaways offset some tremendous passing by Boston throughout the night. The Celtics racked up 27 assists on 35 baskets. Five players had between three and eight assists.

This was one where the desire to share the ball was too often outweighed by the poor execution.

4. In the fourth quarter, Boston shot 6-of-22 from the floor. And this wasn’t like the early months of the season where the Celtics missed three after three, either. They were 1-for-8 from behind the arc, but that left them just 5-of-14 inside of it.

Here’s the fourth quarter shot chart:

Celtics Q4 Shot Chart vs Heat
NBA.com

None of the nine misses inside the arc were midrange pullups. They were all in the paint. Including five misses in the restricted area. Four of those missed layups came in the game’s final three minutes.

All too often, it looked like the bad late-game basketball from October to December. Players were driving into the paint without a plan and throwing up contested shots or flinging a wild pass back outside. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart both did this multiple times.

One last thing about the late-game offense: Miami trapped Jayson Tatum and trapped him hard. As soon as Tatum got the ball after crossing halfcourt, he saw two defenders. More often than not, he made the right read and got the ball moving. He forced a couple of looks, but that seemed to be out of frustration, more than anything else.

Teams are going to do their best to force someone else to beat them. Boston has to figure out how to free Tatum up, and other players also need to deliver when called upon.

5. One last observation on the negative side, before we flip to the good things: The Celtics pick-and-roll coverage was weird. Normally, Boston plays up at the level of the ball as part of their switching everything scheme. In this game, the Celtics had Al Horford, Grant Williams and Daniel Theis playing almost in a pseudo drop coverage.

That sort of coverage is fine against Jimmy Butler. It also can work against someone like P.J. Tucker, who won’t shoot off the dribble. But against Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro and Max Strus, that’s going to get you beat.

Postgame, Horford commented that the Celtics didn’t switch as much and that it would be something to look at. Maybe it was not having Rob Williams to protect the backline. Maybe it was intentional to show Miami a look they won’t see in the playoffs. Maybe it was just bad execution. Whatever it was, it wasn’t how the Celtics play defense.

6. As referenced above, Boston’s ball movement was good all game. Even without Rob Williams, the Celtics can get their big-to-big actions working. This is a good find by Al Horford to Grant Williams:

Miami is really good, like the Celtics are, at rotating and recovering. You beat that by staying committed to driving and kicking:

Jaylen Brown doesn’t operate much as a pick-and-roll passer, but this is a perfect pass to Daniel Theis to set up the dunk:

Speaking of Theis: He was excellent in this game. He scored 15 points off the bench and battled defensively. It was a big game for Theis, whose role will increase the most with Rob Williams out of the lineup.

7. Marcus Smart had a weird game. He shot just 3-of-15 and he had six turnovers. On the flip side, he had eight assists, five rebounds and three steals. And he made some signature Smart plays too. Take the good with the bad, as per usual.

The combination of the deflection, steal and hit-ahead pass here is pure Smart:

You throw a lazy pass around Smart, and he’s getting it. This should have been an and-1 too:

The no-look bounce-pass? C’mon! This is gorgeous:

8. Against a defense as good as the Heat, you have to find easy offense where you can. Boston did that by getting out and running. 16 fastbreak points is a lot, and the Celtics picked up several more points in transition too.

This is a perfect fastbreak off a steal. Brown to Smart to Tatum:

Another steal and another break the other way. Tatum looks like he’s going to the Eurostep for a layup, but he uses his length to turn this into a dunk:

Whenever Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson was the last man back, the Celtics eyes lit up. Jaylen Brown runs this right down their throat for the layup:

9. The Celtics defense was pretty scrappy throughout the game. All the turnovers created way too many easy looks for Miami, but when Boston could lock in (odd pick-and-roll defense aside), they were very good.

He probably won’t get an All-Defense nod, especially if Marcus Smart and Rob Williams get ones, but Jayson Tatum is an elite defender. He’ll take on anyone and hold his own, as he does here against Tyler Herro:

This is locking up and not panicking late in the clock when you see a fake:

If Boston is going to make it through the first round without Rob Williams, Grant Williams has to step up. He had a rough game against the Heat, but this is really good defense. Grant take the hit to the chest from Jimmy Butler and then does a great job contesting the step-back jumper:

10. This was the first time in a while the Celtics looked human against a good team. This was only Boston’s fifth loss since the end of January. Three of the other four were two against Detroit and Indiana where a lack of focus was very evident, and one was the throwaway against Toronto.

It’s the one other loss in that mix that was similar to this one, the loss against Dallas. In that game, the Celtics encountered a physical defense that made it hard for them to run their offense. Very similar to how Miami approached this game. It’s unclear if that’s the book against Boston or not, bring the physicality back to them and you’ll throw them off. That’s something to keep an eye on.

Fortunately for the Celtics, they won’t see anything like that in the next two games. Boston finishes out their regular season home schedule with Indiana on Friday night and Washington on Sunday afternoon. Those are two games the Celtics should win and should win easily. It’s a good chance to steal some valuable in-game rest before closing with three-straight on the road against Chicago, Milwaukee and Memphis.

Back-to-back losses aren’t great, but it’s the first time the Celtics have suffered that since early-January. So, it’s back to work to get back on track, with just over a week left in the regular season.

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