In hindsight, there was no reason to panic after their third-quarter collapse in Game 1 against the Miami Heat on Tuesday. The Boston Celtics have only lost back-to-back games once since February and on Tuesday night in Game 2, they showed why that is the case.
With their starting lineup back together, Boston absolutely obliterated the Heat, 127-102. Unlike in Game 1, a strong first half was enough to carry them to a 25-point victory, and the series will now head back to TD Garden tied at one apiece.
During his postgame press conference, head coach Ime Udoka talked about his team’s ability to bounce back. He said that they “weren’t happy” with the way things went in Game 1 and were determined to make amends.
We were upset with how that third quarter went and specifically how we got out-toughed. There wasn’t a lot of schemes or defensive or offensive changes, they just came out and kind of punked us in that third quarter… Kind of reminded us of Milwaukee, the first game, a little bit and didn’t want to get caught off guard again… But I think our guys have bounced back really well all year, especially in the second half of the year.
Since the beginning of February, the Celtics have only lost ten games (including the playoffs). In the nine games they’ve played after those losses (one loss was followed by another loss), they shot 50.0% from the field, 39.9% from three-point range, and 85.8% from the free-throw line.
All three of those percentages would have led the league in the regular season.
Boston is as resilient as they come, and after getting embarrassed by Miami in Game 1, they were fired up on Thursday night. Udoka said that he challenged his guys to match Miami’s physicality and stated that the Celtics take pride in being one of the toughest squads in the NBA.
If a team is just gonna come out and out-hustle you, like I said, there wasn’t like a lot of things schematically that they did different. We can match that intensity. We pride ourselves on being one of the tougher teams. And so, we knew if we matched that we’d be in good shape tonight.
The Celtics snagged eight steals in the contest and were constantly pressuring Miami. And even when they weren’t able to get a steal, they bothered the Heat’s ball-handlers enough to regain possession, regardless.
They forced the Heat to turn the ball over 14 times, pestering them with the length and physicality that they lacked on Tuesday night. Marcus Smart played a big role in that, getting three steals and a block. He sniffed out the ball every time it came his way, even when he couldn’t control it afterward.
When asked about Smart’s impact on the game, Udoka made sure to let everyone know that they’re talking about the Defensive Player of the Year.
As always, he sets the tone. Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. Ability to switch and switch on to bigger bodies and just another good defender to throw at Butler and Adebayo and some of those guys and not have to worry about them trying to pick on certain matchups. He brings a physicality every night, kind of gets everybody else in line.
In his first game back after a foot sprain, Smart was amazing. He dropped 24 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists, falling just one board short of a triple-double. His tone-setting intensity was exactly what Boston needed after a lackluster third quarter cost them a win in Game 1. Smart helped the Celtics maintain their lead, even when Miami emptied their bag of tricks.
After the Celtics went up big at halftime, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went to a zone, a defensive scheme that gave the Celtics fits earlier in the season. However, Boston was able to work around it in Game 2 rather than allowing their offense to go stagnant.
Udoka said that they took note of Spoelstra’s zone defense earlier in the season and worked it into their gameplan.
We knew they’re a team that runs quite a bit of zone. Didn’t get to it in the first game. Not surprised, but they upped their physicality and didn’t need to get to it. Tonight, they tried it, and we’ve had some good sets and success against it later in the season, being that we saw it quite a bit early in the season. We’re ready for that.
Boston utilized crisp ball and player movement as a means to break Miami’s zone. Watch Al Horford demand attention in the middle of the floor, kick the ball out to Smart, and relocate to the top of the key to nail an easy jumper as Dewayne Dedmon continues to sink into the paint.
After getting “punked” as Udoka put it in Game 1, the Celtics were calm, cool, and collected in Game 2. They stole homecourt advantage from the best team in the East and now control their own destiny. If they go undefeated at TD Garden this series, they’ll make the NBA Finals.
That being said, the first step in doing that will be to take care of business in Game 3, which is set to tip off on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. EST on ABC.