Beatdown by Boston

Beatdown by Boston

The Miami Heat played with fire in the first half of game two and got burned like Usher during all of his confessions. The early strategy was clear and obvious: play a Milwaukee Bucks style drop coverage early and allow the jump shooting happy Celtics to shoot a lot of threes. The strategy went a little deeper than that. It was clear that Miami wanted certain guys taking those shots, so they gave space to Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Grant Williams, and Payton Pritchard when he came in for Jayson Tatum after he picked up an early second foul. Not only did they give those guys space to shoot, they also ran soft closeouts at them as well. The Heat doubled Tatum when he caught the ball at the top of the key and then rotated the bigs slowly on the backside to entice dangerous passes through the paint that they would try to deflect and force into a turnover. The calculus of the Heat was that by allowing the less efficient jump shooters on the Celtics to shoot perimeter jump shots early, they would get stops and be able to run out in transition and get easier relief buckets on the other side. Their calculus was wrong.

The strategy seemed to be working early on as the Heat jumped out to an early 18-8 lead in the first 5 minutes of game time. However, while the Heat was setting their trap, Boston had set a trap of their own. They lured them in and pounced after Udoka’s first timeout. Jaylen Brown can be a streaky and inefficient shooter at times. However, you always want to make him put the ball on the floor and make him a decision maker rather than letting him catch and shoot or pull up for wide open jumpers. Letting Brown shoot set shots (even if they are from deep) is playing with fire because he is absolutely ignitable and if you let him see a few go through the basket, then the goal becomes as big as the ocean. If that happens, it’s all downhill for his opponent from there.

Sometimes immolation is contagious. If you allow a guy to get hot and catch fire, sometimes his teammates standing near and watching their guy catch fire will catch fire as well. That’s exactly what happened with the Celtics on Thursday night. Brown caught fire and then the other guys watching him light it up caught fire as well. They just couldn’t miss. Payton Pritchard couldn’t miss. Grant Williams couldn’t miss. Marcus Smart couldn’t miss from 3. The C’s were a combined 9-11 from 3 in the first quarter, which is a franchise playoff record. By the time the beginning of the 2nd quarter rolled around, Jayson Tatum was back on the floor to join the party and that 10 point deficit had become a 14 point lead for the Celtics. Boston ended up scoring 70 points on 63% shooting from 3 point land and were +25 in the first half. Those are NBA2K video game numbers and they did it on the road in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Marcus Smart’s impact was felt on the court as his return to play allowed Boston’s offense to stabilize with him initiating the offense. Smart played the game of his life. He scored at will from 3, had 12 assists with 1 turnover, 3 steals, and was one rebound away from a triple double. His plus/minus splits in game two were God level. Smart is an underrated point guard and a dog on defense. However, the moment of the night came at the embarrassment of former Celtic and current Heat sniper Max Strus. Smart broke the Max’s ankles with a nasty between the leg move that literally sat Max down in the paint. Marcus was so busy admiring his own work that he paused to take it in and lowkey carried the ball before taking a rhythm dribble and burying the pull up jumper. The referees were so busy looking in astonishment at Max mopping the floor that they missed an obvious double dribble violation. But who can blame them? It was for sure the dagger and play that was singularly emblematic of the night.

Drop coverage is supposed to help protect the paint, but the Heat were getting beat in transition from their numerous turnovers. The Heat were fouling. The Heat were switching late. The Heat were giving up open 3s. They were giving layups and dunks from advanced outlet passes. They weren’t communicating well and missing defensive assignments. The Heat couldn’t stop a nose bleed and the avalanche swallowed them up before they knew what hit them. They watched Boston’s shots going in and the fact that they were missing their shots impacted their defensive effort. The Heat need to get back to their defensive identity and give a much better defensive effort in game 3 or else the momentum of this series could start to overwhelm them. In the words of Jimmy Butler, “It has to hurt. They tried to embarrass us….they did embarrass us. We have to use that as fuel and realize that the game can get out of hand whenever you’re playing against a really good team like them who can score the ball and get stops.” I expect the Heat to play exponentially better in game 3.

If not for Jimmy Butler’s individual brilliance in temporarily bringing the Heat back on a run in the 3rd quarter, the final score line would have been even uglier than it ended up being. Jimmy Butler was the only bright spot in a dark and ugly game for the Heat but like a true leader, he is taking accountability and promising to be better moving forward. In fairness to Jimmy, his teammates need to be better. He will not be able to beat a high quality team like the Celtics 4 out 7 with solo superman salvos or herculean hero ball heroics.

Thursday night was not Miami Heat basketball at all. They didn’t move the ball and didn’t defend. Their side pick & rolls were sloppy. The Heat let Boston’s switching and blitzing intimidate them. They picked up their dribble early and got trapped. The Heat didn’t make Boston’s defense move or scramble when they shrunk the floor. They settled for outside shots instead of working the midrange and attacking Boston in the paint. The Heat made themelves easy to defend and they let go of the rope when they saw Boston hitting their 3s and they were missing theirs. When those guys look at the film and rewatch those soft closeouts, the lackluster drop coverage that they played, along with the late switches that led to open 3s….they are not going to be proud of their defensive effort from Thursday night. With that said, I expect the Heat to come out and play with more pride in game three on Saturday night. We are also awaiting injury news concerning Miami’s starting point guard Kyle Lowry and the results of an MRI on PJ Tucker’s knee who left game two in the second quarter and never returned. The series is now tied one a piece and in my opinion, whoever wins game three will win this series. Boston will have the advantage of playing it on their home floor after stealing home court by winning game two.

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