Just like in Game 1, the Boston Celtics seemed to be under control. But this time, it increased the lead to 17 points in the second quarter, and essentially aggressively got whatever it wanted. This time around, the turnaround was faster and more extreme. The Miami Heat played 20-4 in the third quarter and got ahead by seven points in the last frame.
And, just like in Game 1, Miami beat the three-time Seed Celtics on Thursday and completely lost their rhythm with a combination of 2-3 zones and transitions. Heat mixed with full court pressure too, making Boston look like a completely different team from the early game.
With that credit, the Celtics reacted at both ends after a cold stretch. Miami missed 10 of the first 12 shots in the last frame, while Boston played 15-2. However, the Heat once again persevered, left with a 106-101 victory and took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. This is primarily thanks to the late game hero of the guard Goran Dragic.
With less than two minutes left, Celtics had an almost perfect defense until Dragic dribbled 3 off against big man Daniel Theis to lead the hit 100-95. Helping the hit rise in the series opener, Dragic hit another jumper over Theis in the next ownership. He scored 25 points and 5 assists in 10 games in 19 at-bats.
“Goran, you know, their defense is really good,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. “It’s really great. They can make you flat, and sometimes that’s what you need. For some games, you have to create something out of nothing, and Goran could do it all at once.”
Boston’s Jaylen Brown hit a pair of clutches 3, but missed the flaw with 15 seconds left in the corner.
Here are the three main points of Game 2.
It’s hard to overstate how comfortable Boston seemed to attack during most of the first half, especially compared to the two-round slugfest that took place before Tuesday after the match ended. Heat is generally a strong and versatile defensive team, but Spoelstra thought Celtics “didn’t feel us, pay attention to us”. Miami fell to 60-43 at the end of the second quarter before a pair of short jumpers cut the deficit to 13 points.
“It seemed like we were 30,” said Spoelstra.
It’s also difficult to exaggerate how thoroughly the hit dominated during the comeback period. If I write this takeout before the start of the run, this is about the resurgence of Kemba Walker, dancing around the defense of the hit to the tune of 14 points on a 6-for 10 shot in the first half. Two days ago, Walker went back to the box-and-one coverage he saw in the previous series and was so cold that he said “to be honest, it’s a terrible play.”
Walker was barely visible in the third quarter, despite playing every second. As a team, Boston had 12 losses in 4 at-bats in 12 minutes, and the Heat forced 7 turnovers.
“I know everyone wants to talk about the plan,” Spoelstra said. “For us, it’s about making multiple efforts regardless of inclination, hard work, strong play, plan. And we made more commitment in the second half.”
It started with Bam Adebayo’s alley-oop dunk with the help of Dragic. Adebayo scored 15 points in the third, scored 7 at-bats and 8 at-bats out of two over Celtics’ total, and punished Boston for taking consecutive possessions during a short Enes Kanter stunt. He was equally active on the other end as well, and flew around the court like everyone else his size could.
Boston coach Brad Stevens insisted it wasn’t about John, saying in the third quarter, “We didn’t play well and we didn’t play well.” He said the players were “emotional” after losing, but he didn’t give much details about this.
2. Shoot Robinson
One of Miami’s key developments that could be overlooked because it didn’t coincide with the return: Duncan Robinson began. This sharpshooter only scored 17 minutes in the first leg due to foul issues and found it difficult to shake freely at the border, with 7 at-bats and 2 at-bats from the deep. Less than two minutes after Game 2 started, he hit three in a row, and a few minutes later, hitting the third.
Robinson is one of the most dangerous shooting games in the NBA. Because he can fly at any angle, almost anywhere with a ridiculously quick release. His move away from the ball can mess up the defense, and he jumped the screen with purpose on Thursday.
“His path was very arbitrary,” Spoelstra said. “So whether he shoots or pursues it is very important to our attack. And it opens up different things for us. It gives us a little more variety of menus. But he was more aggressive. He definitely burns more calories. It was good.”
Robinson did what Dragic did in the opener to help Heat stay around when nothing else was going well. He scored 12 out of 18 points in the first quarter and finished with 4 assists with 3 points from 6 players. It’s an amazing luxury to make him a source of attack, and Boston can definitely use such a guy when stuck in the mud. Us …
3. Boston’s blahs
Celtics knew that John would come before the series began. They knew Adebayo was causing problems with their ability to protect particularly small players, and they knew that Heat had a lot of practice to switch from 1 to 5. Stevens didn’t like the way the attack was stagnant in the second half of the game, and he didn’t like the way he relied on difficult isolation play rather than defending his identity. But this was worse.
Stevens said, “If you’re not completely connected on both sides of the court, you won’t be able to beat this team.” “So we have to go back like we did at times, but now they’re a better team and we’ll have to fight to get back to this series.”
I was actually impressed with Boston’s attack in most of Game 1. Jayson Tatum took a lot of his patented side step 3 and Celtics was mostly against John. The first half of Game 2 seemed to continue with hotter shooting.
However, as Game 2 progressed, Tatum became sloppy, and so was the attack, as if Miami had driven the Celtics into the wrong sense of security. Stevens, who diagnosed the problem in an in-game interview, said he simply stopped playing.
Tatum and Marcus Smart each made four sales in the second half, and Smart took several shots that received unreasonable advice. Both teams have gone through drastic fluctuations in terms of aggressive liquidity and defensive strength in this game, but for Boston this is a worrisome trend that needs to be quickly reversed.
Celtics have long been lulled against Toronto Raptors and Heat in the playoffs. These are powerful opponents that change plans and combine stamina and athletic performance with a high basketball IQ. However, Boston received the NBA’s fourth-best offensive rating during the regular season, and its biggest strength is that it has multiple playmaking options, so you can’t defend against any of them.
The Celtics are feeling Gordon Hayward’s absence, but taking it as an excuse doesn’t matter. Ahead of Match 3 on Saturday, Hayward is back and hopes he’s the answer. If not, they will have to look for the other desperately.