1. This loss for the Boston Celtics was perhaps predictable in that it happened. What wasn’t predictable was the way the loss happened.
Boston fell apart in the third quarter. The Miami Heat, led by Jimmy Butler, completely dominated the third quarter. It was almost surreal to watch play out.
After taking a 62-54 lead into the break, the Celtics were outscored by the Heat 39-14 in the third. Boston made a couple of mini-runs in the fourth quarter, but the game was never really in doubt after the third quarter ended.
Avert your eyes if you must, but here are the numbers from that fateful period:
· Celtics shooting – 2-of-15 from the floor, 0-for-7 on three-pointers, 10-of-13 free throws
· Heat shooting – 11-of-22 from the floor, 3-of-9 on three-pointers, 14-of-17 free throws
· Celtics – eight turnovers
· Heat – four turnovers
· Celtics – one offensive rebounds
· Heat – four offensive rebounds
It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad third quarter. What we’re going to do over the Takeaways today is break down some individual plays of where things went sideways. This isn’t meant to place any sort of blame solely on these players. This was a teamwide mess in the third quarter.
2. Jimmy Butler went 9-of-10 on free throws in the third quarter. 10 attempts in a single period is ridiculous. In all, Butler was 17-of-18 at the charity stripe. Yes, there were a handful of questionable calls in there, but for the most part, Boston wasn’t disciplined against one of the NBA’s best foul-drawers.
This play opened the third quarter. Boston switches the action, as they are apt to do. They actually make this a tough catch. Rob Williams is in perfect position to contest at the rim, but look what he does before Butler goes up. Williams brings his arms down, which creates the contact as Butler goes into his shot. This is something Ime Udoka called out as a problem Boston’s bigs had all game. They kept bringing their arms down into Butler as he rose to shoot:
As an aside: the Celtics are the NBA’s best defense and that’s in part because of their ability to switch everything. Against Miami, they might want to go away from that, especially against certain players and actions. For example, instead of switching Payton Pritchard onto Butler, where he gives up a ton of size, the Celtics could go under and invite Butler to shoot the pullup jumper. It’s a different look and scheme, but it’s something worth trying.
3. Another issue for Boston was getting stripped of the ball. Miami tallied 12 blocked shots, but many of them were of the strip variety. Here’s a good example of that. First off, this pass from Derrick White needs to be higher. But Rob Williams has to be stronger with the ball and he needs to get and keep it high. Gabe Vincent did a great job digging down for strips, because Boston’s bigs had the ball down at his level:
4. This next stretch is three straight turnovers by Jayson Tatum. All were really bad too. Tatum has no real chance here. He’s forcing the ball through a window that the double-team isn’t going to allow it:
5. This turnover is particularly painful because it came on an ATO. All season long, and particularly in the playoffs, the Celtics have gotten good looks on ATO plays. Jayson Tatum doesn’t even give them a chance here. This is a terrible pass that is thrown so softly, a Biddy Leaguer would have picked it off:
6. On the very next trip, Jayson Tatum doesn’t see Jimmy Butler cheating off his man. It’s another soft pass and Butler is off the other way for another pick-six:
7. Jayson Tatum was the main culprit with six turnovers in the third quarter, but he was far from the only one with poor plays. Where is Jaylen Brown even attempting to go with this pass? There’s way too much traffic here for this to work:
8. Alright…let’s move on. Boston did play well in the first half. And they more or less got back on track in the fourth quarter. Without Al Horford and Marcus Smart, that alone is something to hang their hats on.
The key moving forward, considering we have no sense of when Horford or Smart might be available to play, is continuing to do the things that worked, while eliminating the things that didn’t. Easier said than done, but there are a lot of correctable mistakes for Boston.
Staying more solid on defense and not reaching on Butler is a major one. Switching up coverages against the Heat’s poorer shooters is another. Jaylen Brown has to be better early on, while Tatum can’t go on vacation in the middle of the game. And the Celtics need to do a better job of picking out mismatches to attack. Miami gave them some attack points throughout the game, and Boston got away from finding them, especially in the third period.
9. We’d be remiss if we didn’t shoutout Aaron Nesmith here. Nesmith hadn’t played meaningful minutes in more than a month. Ime Udoka had to throw him into the fire with key players out and the rest of the roster on some tired legs. And Nesmith really delivered.
It would have been nice to see him make a few shots, but Nesmith’s defense and hustle were top-tier. He had three great blocks, including two that took away fastbreak scoring opportunities. If Al Horford and/or Marcus Smart can’t go again in Game 2, Nesmith earned himself some more minutes.
10. There’s no sugarcoating it. This was a pretty tough loss. It was always going to be tough to play with just a day of rest after a grueling seven-game series, but getting hit with the double-dip that Al Horford and Marcus Smart wouldn’t play was brutal.
Yet, Boston did what they do and they fought for three quarters. It was just one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad third quarter that did them in.
But here’s the thing: The Celtics were down 0-1 to the Bucks too. They fought back. They were down 2-3 and headed on the road for Game 6 and they fought back.
Even if Horford and Smart can’t go, Boston will fight back. This series is a long way from over. As both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown said postgame: “We need to better. We will better.”
If this season, and this playoff run, have taught us anything, we can believe them.
Game 2 is Thursday, May 19 in Miami at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN.