1. Team Resiliency did it again.
The Boston Celtics have lost back-to-back games just once since late-January. Oddly enough, that was to these same Miami Heat, following a loss where Boston sat several starters in Toronto.
Let’s pause for a second. Only once in four months this team has lost consecutive games. Let that sink in.
This win was a bounce-back, but it was more than that. It was a dominating butt-kicking on the road against a team that had yet to lose a home playoff game. Boston took the lead with 2:56 remaining in the first quarter and never looked back. They led by as many as 34 points.
After the game, the Celtics were clearly confident and expressed that they knew they would bounce back. But the team also emphasized that it’s just one win and they haven’t accomplished anything.
Bouncing back, while staying focused on what’s next. That’s the 2022 Boston Celtics.
2. Marcus Smart was back and played a brilliant floor game. He had 12 assists against just one turnover and that one turnover came when Smart was trying to save a loose ball.
Smart got it started early with this drive-and-kick find to Jaylen Brown. This is the way Boston needs to break down the Miami defense. Get into the teeth of the Heat defense and find a teammate. Also, this is a ridiculously good pass from Smart:
On the very next trip, Smart did a good job pushing the ball to attack before the Heat could set their defense. He pushes, slows it up for everyone to get in place, then tosses up the Rob Lob:
This is Smart being locked in with his teammates. It’s another transition play and he dimes up Jayson Tatum after the really nice cut against the non-set defense:
12 assists against one turnover while controlling the pace? Yeah, Boston has a floor general.
3. Marcus Smart also did some scoring too. This is just silly to draw the and-1:
A little later, Smart broke Max Strus’ ankles and snatched his soul. Also, peep the bench reaction, especially all-time bench guy Malik Fitts getting up to some antics:
Early in the fourth quarter, Smart put the game to bed with this step-back to give Boston a 30-point lead:
If you watched to the end of the clip, you could see the emotion pouring out of Smart as he let loose with a “Let’s f***ing go!”. LFG indeed!
4. Jayson Tatum got in foul trouble early, but eventually he got into a groove with 17 points in the second quarter. But we’re going to focus on Tatum being a playmaker, because he was reading the Miami defense really well all game long.
During the Heat’s third quarter turnaround in Game 1, they extended their pressure defense and were aggressively up into the bodies of the Celtics on the perimeter. Miami continued that to open Game 2. This time Boston was ready for it. Tatum used that aggressiveness against P.J. Tucker here with the smart back-cut, followed by a terrific kick to Al Horford for the corner three as he drew the help:
On this play, you can see Miami loading their defense to the ball. Instead of staying rooted to the corner, Grant Williams makes the smart backdoor cut and Tatum finds him for the layup:
The Heat started aggressively blitzing Tatum on screen actions. Instead of switching, Miami was determined to pressure Tatum, which worked in Game 1 to the tune of multiple turnovers. In this one, Tatum read those blitzes nearly perfectly. This is a spot-on pass to Payton Pritchard:
In the second half of Game 1, Tatum was trying to force the issue by splitting the defense from the top of the key. Here, he accepts the double and makes the good kickout to Smart:
One more time, Tatum accepts the double and zips it to Smart again. Also, look at Rob’s gravity pulling everyone into the paint with him, which helps open up Smart:
This is all good stuff from Tatum. He’s as dangerous of a scorer as there is in the league, but it’s when he embraces the playmaking that Boston goes to another level as a team.
5. The Celtics ball movement was pretty good all game. They had 28 assists on 43 baskets. Here’s back-to-back scores in the first quarter where the ball popped nicely.
First, Jaylen Brown does a nice job getting downhill to draw the Miami defense. From there, he’s got a couple of options and he picks out Payton Pritchard for the triple:
The next trip starts again with Brown and Al Horford working the pick-and-pop game. Then Horford makes the good swing pass and Marcus Smart buries another three:
6. In Game 1, the Celtics turnover issues cropped again, especially in that disastrous third quarter. In Game 2, Boston had just 10 turnovers, and one was an intentional shot-clock violation at the end of the game. Just as importantly, Miami only had nine points off turnovers.
The Heat also only had eight fastbreak points. The Celtics did a great job of keeping control of the ball and forcing Miami to play against a set defense. And that defense was pretty locked in all game long.
7. When Grant Williams is feeling good, he’s knocking down above-the-break three-pointers. Jaylen Brown does a good job here of accepting the double-team and then finding Williams, who doesn’t pump-fake or fake a pass. He sets and lets it fly:
On the next play, Al Horford is working in the post on a mismatch. As he draws the help, look at Boston’s spacing. It’s basically perfect. Jimmy Butler sees Payton Pritchard and sprints to him, which leaves Williams open in his corner office:
Although his main offensive contributions have come as a spot-up shooter this season, Williams can do some damage in the post. Here, he backs down P.J. Tucker with surprising ease to get the layup:
8. With Al Horford and Marcus Smart back, and Rob Williams starting again, the Celtics were back to their aggressive switching defense. They locked in and held Miami in check all game long by making things tough. For example, even though Jimmy Butler shot 11-of-18, Boston was up into him all game and made him take several difficult, contested shots.
One of the keys to this defense working is Rob Williams holding his own. This game was the first time it’s looked like Williams was back to his normal self. After a rough start, Williams came back in for his second stint and looked like himself for the rest of the game. This kind of defensive handoff only works if the big can contain the perimeter player, and Williams more than holds his own here:
9. Payton Pritchard’s confidence is overflowing right now. He’s been playing really well for the Celtics over the past few games. And he clearly has some form of rivalry building with Tyler Herro, as he hit Herro with the “too small” after this pullup jumper:
10. These Celtics don’t like anything easy. They thrive under pressure and with their backs against the wall. But it’s also been clear throughout seven quarters of play, that Boston is better than Miami. If not for that complete mess of a third quarter in Game 1, the Celtics might very well be up 2-0 headed back to Boston.
But, even with that missed opportunity, the goal for the lower-seeded team is always a split in the first two games. Mission accomplished. And part of accomplishing that mission was learning from Game 1, but then putting it away and only focusing on what was next.
Now, the series shifts to Boston where the crowd will be loud and ready to spur the guys in green forward. Derrick White will be back as a new papa, and Marcus Smart, Al Horford and Rob Williams are all good to go too. The Celtics are whole again, as just the right time.
Game 3 is on Saturday, May 21 in Boston at 8:30 PM ET on ABC.