1. The Boston Celtics did it again.
They bounced back and won a must-win game. Again.
While most know this version of the Celtics for their defensive excellence, their true identity is their resiliency. No matter what bad things may have happened in the previous game, this group puts it away and moves on.
Yet, as Robert Williams said postgame, the Celtics “shouldn’t have to get punched in the mouth to respond.”
But responding when down is better than not responding at all. That’s served Boston well in 2022 and it’s the reason they are tied with 2-2 with the Miami Heat.
2. With Marcus Smart out, Boston was going to lean on Derrick White for more. More minutes, more scoring, more defense. Just more.
White delivered. After most of his Celtics tenure has been spent providing value beyond the box score, White did plenty in Game 4 that showed up in the box score too. He finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block against just three turnovers. And that doesn’t include the multiple possessions of terrific on-ball defense too.
White got started early, as he drove and scored on the game’s opening possession for the Celtics:
On the next trip, White did something he doesn’t do often enough: drill a spot-up jumper:
A couple of plays later, White had just Max Strus in front of him in transition and he attacked. Going right at Strus is becoming a recurring theme for the Celtics the deeper this series goes:
In all, it was a personal 7-0 run for White. That start sparked the Celtics to a dominating first quarter that set the tone in a wire-to-wire blowout victory.
But White wasn’t done quite yet. He continued to make plays, including as a playmaker. He’s probably the best Boston player about pushing pace and he does so here before throwing the alley-oop to Jayson Tatum:
This is outstanding play design to open the second half. The Heat are hiding Max Strus on Robert Williams. Boston opens the set by spacing Jayson Tatum and Al Horford to the left side of the floor. Williams ostensibly is screening for Jaylen Brown here, but he slips it while Strus is preoccupied with helping on Brown. White is on-time with lob to Rob:
3. Jayson Tatum has a habit of bouncing back from terrible games with big ones. After a rotten Game 3, Tatum was terrific in Game 4. He outscored the Heat starting five himself by a 31-18 margin.
Tatum is always at his best when he’s on the attack. With just Kyle Lowry back in transition, Tatum is off to the rim:
On the next trip, Tatum continued Boston’s strategy of targeting Max Strus on switches. One fake later and it’s a clean jumper:
Zone defenses beguiled Boston for years. Now, the Celtics have a plethora of players who can work the middle or a zone. In Game 3, it was Tatum who chased Miami out of the zone by working at the elbow:
Next trip down, Tatum aggressively drove the baseline for the reverse layup:
This was the Jayson Tatum Boston needs to get where they want to go. Not just after bad games, but on a more regular basis.
4. Al Horford played about as dominant of a five-point game as you’ll ever see. He, along with Rob Williams, completely owned the paint for Boston.
The two linked up nicely on offense here too, as Horford found Williams on the lob after driving a closeout:
They hooked up again in the second, as Horford threw the Rob lob while on the short roll:
Horford also had four blocks, including this one that he sent off into the Boston night:
It was a tour de force for the Celtics veteran leader. And, once again, it came when they needed it most.
5. Look at this Heat shot chart. There’s more red on the floor than a Saw movie.
And this was helped by considerable garbage time buckets for Miami.
More than the misses, look at where the shots were coming from. The Celtics forced the Heat away from the rim, while limiting three-point attempts. Miami had to live in the midrange, especially in the first half. It was a lot of long two-pointers or shots in the paint, but away from the basket.
Simply put: Boston dominated defensively, both in strategy and execution.
6. A big part of the defensive dominance was Rob Williams helping Al Horford control the paint. Because Williams is such a great athlete, he’s able to control the pick-and-roll ballhandler here, before recovering back to P.J. Tucker to swat his floater away:
Jimmy Butler has done a pretty job of getting his body into the Celtics defenders to create space on drives or to draw a foul. He even got Williams pretty good earlier in the series. Here, Williams keeps enough separation to avoid getting bounced back or picking up a foul and he sends Butler’s layup away:
It’s unknown if Williams will be able to continue to play every game during the grinding every-other-day pace of the conference finals. But he’s trying his best to be there for his teammates, and that’s all you can really ask for.
7. For the Celtics offense to function at it’s best, they have to be a drive-and-kick team. When it’s their best players making those plays happen, so much the better. But for that to happen, the shooters have to hit shots. Finding guys like Payton Pritchard, who also stepped up with Marcus Smart out, and Grant Williams works.
Someone on the Heat blew this coverage, because Pritchard should never be left this wide-open. It’s still a good read by Jayson Tatum to recognize it though:
You have the sense Tatum knew where he wanted to go this entire play. He just has to wait for Al Horford and Derrick White to cut and suck in the weakside defenders. After that happens, Tatum finds Williams living in his corner office:
8. There were two spots where there was room for criticism in a dominating victory. Let’s start with Jaylen Brown. He was just 5-of-20 from the floor. Brown only had one turnover, but he was stripped of the ball at least four or five other times. That has to be better.
One thing to watch for: Brown has often been a wonderful first-quarter player. He’s often responsible for the Celtics getting off to good starts. In Game 4, he was way too amped up. It was to the point of being out of control. Harnessing that chaotic energy and then exploding on the Heat is Brown’s game vs trying to go 100 miles per hour all the time.
9. The other point of criticism is that Ime Udoka has to sub earlier. He waited way too long in what was largely a 20-25-point game in the fourth quarter to pull the regulars. With how physical this series has been, and with how many players are dealing with varying ailments, there was no reason anyone should have played 30-40-plus minutes.
Yes, this is extremely nitpicky. And, yes, Boston’s bench has had issues. But this game was so well in-hand that there was no way the lead was getting away.
10. Sometimes basketball is a simple game. Boston bounced back behind dominating defense and not throwing the ball away.
As Ime Udoka said pregame, the Celtics know they can rely on their defense. The key is that the offense just hangs on to the ball. When Boston has kept the turnovers under control, they haven’t lost. When they throw the ball all over the gym, they tend to struggle.
As the series shifts back to Miami for Game 5, the focus for both teams will be on health. Each side has several key players dealing with injuries.
After accounting for the injuries, it’s about playing under control and not giving the ball away for Boston. If they can do that, they’ll be in pretty good shape.
Game 5 is on Wednesday, May 25 in Miami at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN.