On the second leg of their back-to-back, the Boston Celtics hit their final stop on their road trip with a matchup against the Miami Heat. Once again, the Celtics found themselves down multiple key players, with Al Horford (lower back stiffness) and Jaylen Brown (right adductor strain management) joining Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart on the injury report.
Despite this, the Celtics held their own against Miami, who were missing star Jimmy Butler (lower back stiffness) after a last-minute scratch before tipoff. Boston held the lead going into the fourth quarter, and they looked poised to take home a win in South Beach, but, about halfway through the quarter, the Celtics came unglued.
Boston’s offense grew stagnant, and the Miami Heat fought back, ripping off a 15-0 run as the Celtics offense sputtered to a grinding halt. Miami jumped out to a 97-95 lead, and with seconds remaining, the Celtics had the final possession with Jayson Tatum bringing the ball up. With a timeout to use, Boston opted to let the clock run out and run a play for Tatum, but after a double team smothered him, the play ended in an errant pass and forced turnover.
"We take pride in being the deepest team so when people are out we gotta have that next man up mentality."— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 25, 2023
Derrick White making no excuses after the C's drop back-to-back games shorthanded pic.twitter.com/Ra3Q28VgH0
The game ultimately ended 98-95, as Boston lost its second straight game, and the team was outscored 23-13 in the final quarter of play. While the last possession was a frustrating way for the game to end, it was certainly not the reason why the Celtics lost, and the players certainly realized this as well. Derrick White spoke on Boston’s offensive drought in the final frame, and why they struggled to find the bottom of the basket.
“I mean, they obviously went to that zone [defense], and we just weren’t able to maintain that spacing and execution that we had throughout the whole night,” said Derrick White, “Honestly, score 13 points in the fourth quarter and it’s gonna be tough to win games that way. Obviously, we just gotta look at what happened during that stretch and how to better execute into that zone.”
Miami’s zone defense is a familiar problem for the Celtics, a defensive scheme that very well may have cost them a Finals berth during the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals. This past postseason, the Celtics gutted out a tough seven-game series with the Heat, but it wasn’t without old habits rearing their ugly head. Late game collapses and slipups continue to be a trend against certain teams, and with an eye-popping 17 turnovers against Miami, the Celtics did themselves no favors.
Celtics gave away the ball 17 times in the narrow loss to the HEAT, in a matchup the Celtics had a chance to win if they didn’t again generate self-inflicted wounds. pic.twitter.com/ySg1DVRsko— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) January 25, 2023
Part of that could be chalked up to their absentees, with both Malcolm Brogdon and Marcus Smart out of the lineup. The two veteran guards not only help give Boston a leg up in the playmaking department, but in their leadership and ability to rein in the team when things start to get sloppy or off the rails. Their calming presence was without a doubt sorely missed against Miami, and on the second night of a back-to-back, tired legs took their toll as well. But it wasn’t something that the Celtics or White would use as an excuse.
“We take pride in being the deepest team, so when people are out, we gotta have that next man up mentality,” said White. “Obviously, two games we dropped that I think we could have won. We don’t look at who’s playing, who’s not playing. We obviously miss those guys, but we still think we should have won.”
Boston will have their chance to get back on the right track tonight at TD Garden when they host the Knicks, 7:30 pm EST tipoff.