A new season may be upon us, but for the Boston Celtics, the bitter taste of summer disappointment perhaps hasn’t faded just yet. On Friday night, they hosted the Eastern Conference rival Miami Heat in TD Garden, the site where Jayson Tatum sprained his ankle and the Celtics’ hopes for Banner 18 were once again halted just five short months ago. True payback may not come until the playoffs, but tonight, the Celtics found some measure of satisfaction, as they downed the Miami Heat 119-111.
The Celtics enjoyed a balanced attack from their starting five, with Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, Derrick White and Kristaps Porzingis all scoring 17+ points and combining for a whopping 111 points as a unit. The bench proved to be a trouble point, however. Led by Horford, the team’s sixth man for the second consecutive game, the reserves added just eight points of their own. For Miami, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro combined for 55 points, but Jimmy Butler struggled through a 3-of-11 shooting line and scored just 14 points of his own.
Trouble arose midway through the first quarter, spearheaded by a surge from Herro. Absent for the majority of the Eastern Conference Finals, the fully healthy Herro looked eager to prove himself as a difference-maker. He connected on back-to-back threes, bookending a tough turnover by Holiday to build an early double-digit lead for the Heat. After a 10-0 Heat run, the Celtics pulled themselves back within striking distance, but what looked to be a good opportunity to tie the game — a Tatum drawn shooting foul on a three-point attempt — was ruled to have occurred after the first quarter buzzer, and the Celtics entered the second trailing 28-25.
It didn’t help that the Celtics’ new-look offense looked far more discombobulated than we’ve witnessed in the limited minutes we’ve seen from it thus far. The decision-making just appeared to be rushed — passes dished a little too early, into windows that were a little too small. The Heat, meanwhile, had no such issues. Their offense resembled the hot-shooting unit that downed the Celtics in the playoffs, shooting 40% from behind the three-point arc in the first half.
Thankfully, the second quarter saw an emergence from Tatum. He scored 11 of his 14 first half points, keeping the Celtics improbably close behind the Heat lead. As halftime drew closer, a wild Boston flurry put the Celtics back on top. Tatum finished at the rim with a sweet layup, and after a stop on the other end, Holiday put home a layup of his own. Quicker than the broadcast camera could react, Brown snagged the ensuing Miami inbound pass and slammed it home to give Boston a two-point advantage. The outburst triggered a 16-4 Celtics run, and they entered the halftime break with a five point lead, 60-55.
Much like in the first quarter, Herro spearheaded the Miami offense in the third. He again converted on back-to-back triples as part of an effort to rally the Heat back into the lead. A pull-up jumper from Kyle Lowry — part of a 13-point effort on the night — inched Miami ahead near the midway mark of the third. One point would separate the two teams for much of the rest of the quarter, and indeed, the Celtics would enter the final frame trailing by just one, 88-87.
The matchup of Kristaps Porzingis versus Bam Adebayo proved to be an issue for the Celtics tonight. Though Porzingis had a solid night from a scoring perspective — 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting — he struggled to contain Miami’s 26-year-old center. Adebayo was the Heat’s second-leading scorer with 27 points, largely bullying Porzingis in the paint and around the free throw line. Porzingis complicated matters with foul trouble, picking up his fifth personal foul of the game midway through the fourth quarter and fouling out shortly thereafter with just three minutes left in regulation. This was a much rougher outing for the Celtics’ unicorn than his sterling debut.
As play began in the fourth quarter, the Celtics asserted themselves with a 9-2 run, capped off by a three-pointer from White to force an Erik Spoelstra timeout and restore a six-point Boston advantage. Boston kept the pressure on from there, punching back against Miami’s attempts at rallying with timely buckets of their own. Midway through the fourth quarter, a confident pull-up three from Brown put the Celtics ahead 101-96.
Quick 9 PTS for Mr. Hot Hands pic.twitter.com/KDcySZlSMF— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 28, 2023
Boston’s defense asserted itself on the Heat down the stretch, as White recorded his third block of the game defending a Butler layup with the clock sitting just over four minutes to play. Porzingis fouled out with just over three minutes to play with Boston nursing a seven-point lead, leaving the center position in Horford’s care for the remainder of the game.
The closing minutes came down to the wire. Miami chopped the Boston lead down to four behind a Lowry three-pointer with just under 90 seconds left on the game clock. Holiday responded with two-point jumper, but Kevin Love’s second three-pointer brought the Heat within three. That, however, was as close as they would get. In the final minute, Spoelstra challenged a foul against Butler, but the play was upheld upon review, leading to a pair of White free throws that functionally put the game on ice.
Next up, the Celtics will travel to the nation’s capital for a showdown with the Washington Wizards, this Monday at 7 pm EST on NBC Sports Boston.