The first half of Boston’s do-or-die Game 4 triumph on Tuesday looked inauspicious. The Celtics, as they had all series, struggled to catch up to the Miami Heat’s ever-shifting defensive scheme. Their offense sputtered and they trailed by six at halftime.
Then something clicked in the second half. Boston moved the ball with purpose and attacked effectively. They spaced the floor well and dropped 66 points — with just two turnovers.
That last-gasp half helped the Celtics win the turnover battle for the first time all series, with 15 takeaways against 10 giveaways. It’s actually just the eighth time in 17 playoff contests so far that the Celtics have won this mini-game, and only the fourth time Miami has lost it.
A five-turnover margin might not seem like much, and it’s far from the only reason Boston managed to keep its season alive. But the way the Celtics generated turnovers, and kept themselves from stacking them up, is worth highlighting. It could be a sign of real progress.
The Heat’s 15 giveaways were the most they’ve had since Game 3 of the first round. Several were admittedly sloppy plays that Boston can’t really bank on returning. But the best moments looked like the two above steals, where the Celtics helped aggressively and got out in front of Miami’s actions. If the Celtics can muck up some of the opportunities for Bam Adebayo, like Derrick White did in the second clip, that can slash the tires for the Heat ball movement.
Boston’s overall defensive intensity, while not totally consistent, was also just present in a way we hadn’t seen in a long time. Hard chase down plays in transition. More resistance fighting over screens and crisper rotations. These two extra-effort steals were huge:
The Heat found some easy fast-break buckets, but the Celtics also made those advantageous situations tough when possible, like with Marcus Smart’s above steal. Hustle sets a tone, even if the result doesn’t always show up in the box score. Boston asserting itself as a transition impetus led to some ugly plays from Miami, including this one late:
Kyle Lowry is basically expecting Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams to block a layup attempt even though he has a lane to the basket. So instead of even trying to draw contact or throw up a contested shot, he flings a wild pass to nobody.
The Celtics’ renewed effort to cause havoc on defense kept Miami from establishing a rhythm late. At the same time, they also surged offensively with faster decisions and more active team-wide movement.
Jayson Tatum had four turnovers in the first half and just one in the second half. At first, we saw him try to charge into set Miami defenses and lose the ball repeatedly. His decision-making changed as the game went on; he still processed quickly, but attacked before the Heat settled in, and wasn’t afraid to use a mid-range jumper to shoot through a zone.
Using Tatum as the flasher against a zone defense (like in the third clip) make a ton of sense. He’s comfortable shooting that fadeaway jumper if the defense gives it to him, and if they collapse, he can drive or dish to the correct outlet. It also makes Tatum’s job as a creator less taxing.
Tatum’s 33 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists speak for itself, but his Game 4 performance was a masterclass in learning and adjusting. Credit to him and Joe Mazzulla for finally landing on some great approaches.
Boston obviously can’t afford any regression on either end as Game 5 approaches tonight. But until tip-off, fans can at least take some solace in knowing this team is capable of causing frustration for a disciplined Heat squad. Now we’ll have to see if they can do it three more times.