Thursday, April 25, 2024

How Celtics abandoned their offense in Game 2 loss due to Miami's physicality

The Miami Heat beat the Celtics by taking a page out of Boston's playbook and firing away from beyond the 3-point arc to a 111-101 victory in Game 2 and evening up this first round series matchup at 1-1.

In stunning fashion, head coach Erik Spoelstra made sure his boys let it fly on offense and they got even more physical on defense. The end result was 23-of-43 from 3-point range (a new franchise playoff record), while limiting the C's to only 12 made 3-pointers in a double-digit loss at TD Garden.

So what went wrong for Joe Mazzulla and the crew that they essentially abandoned their offensive game plan that worked so well in their 114-94 blowout win in Game 1?
"Obviously, their physicality," Kristaps Porzingis said at his post-practice presser Thursday. "They tried to get up into us. Make every catch [and] every action difficult. But we also got a little bit, I think -- because you value the possession so much, we got a little bit stagnant. We just need to play the same way we've been playing and not fall into their game too much."
The Heat were able to slow down the Celtics, who set their own franchise playoff record of hitting 22 on 49 attempts from long range Sunday afternoon, to just 32 shots from 3 Wednesday night.

It also didn't help that Miami never let Porzingis get comfortable, as the big man finished with just six points on 1-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-4 from long distance compared to his 18 points (7-of-13 from the field and 4-of-8 on 3s) in Game 1.

Besides making sure to chase the Celtics off the 3-point line to challenge them in the paint, Miami let the C's explore mismatches only have multiple defenders ready to pounce on whoever touched the ball -- making it difficult to find open shooters.
"Anytime a team is switching and [playing with] more physicality, you have to fight to exploit those with more purpose and with more physicality," Mazzulla told reporters today. "And sometimes, it takes a second or a third layer. And so, it's just recognizing those second and third layers earlier so that we can get to them earlier in the shot clock."
The Celtics had a 30-point advantage from 3 in Game 1, while Miami flipped the script and made it a 33-point gap in Game 2 on made 3-pointers while shooting 53.5% from downtown -- making it the sixth-best percentage in playoff history on at least 35 attempts from 3-point territory.

Between the last two seasons in the playoffs, the Heat have four games where they've connected on 50% or better against the Celtics from beyond the arc.
"I tip my hat off to the Heat," Jaylen Brown said in his post Game 2 presser. "They shot the ball incredibly well. They put up more three-point attempts than we did tonight. They played with pace. They played faster. That was their response. They were able to get some good looks and knocked a lot of them down, which was tough."
While this the fourth meeting between these two teams in the postseason in just as many years, what is it that makes Miami suddenly find the bottom of the net from long range against the Celtics when that's not necessarily their game?
"It's a great question. Maybe a coincidence, maybe it’s not. Something that we got to figure out, honestly," Jayson Tatum told reporters when asked why the Heat shoot so well against Boston. "They hit some tough shots tonight from the three-point line, some were open. Maybe some of those easier ones earlier in the game got them feeling more comfortable.

"Sometimes, those tougher shots become a little bit easier when you already got in rhythm. That's something we're going to talk about."
Miami, who's normally known for driving into the paint on offense and creating contact -- à la Jimmy Butler -- the Celtics were ready to defend the Heat going downhill, much like they saw in Game 1. Still, those in-game adjustments Wednesday were not made even as Miami made it clear the plan was to shoot way more from the opening tip.
"Obviously, their adjustment [was] to shoot more," Mazzulla said. "So, we're going to have to find a balance because a lot of those guys that made shots tonight are also good drivers, especially getting downhill. So, we're going to have to find that balance of making sure we close out appropriately, but we don’t want to start opening up the other side of that. So, that will be the adjustment."
The Celtics missed a golden opportunity to not only take a commanding 2-0 best-of-7 series lead over the team that sent them packing a season ago, but also send a message following the Caleb Martin - Tatum dust up at the end of Game 1. Instead, Martin went 7-of-12 from the floor and 5-of-6 from 3 for 21 points despite hearing boos each time the ball was in his hands, while Tyler Herro had the game of his career going for a team-high 24 points (6-of-11 from 3) and 14 assists.

Outside of Brown (33 points) and Tatum (28 points), no other Celtic scored in double-figures except Derrick White (13 points) but it was little too late in the fourth quarter. After losing home-court advantage, Boston will definitely have to make adjustments heading into Game 3 down in South Beach.
 "Just cleaner looks at everything," Porzingis said. "Not being as--again, how much do I want to say? I looked at the things I can do better, but overall, there's no reason for us to overreact."
The Celtics look to avoid falling behind 2-1 in Miami, as Game 3 is set for Saturday night on TNT at 6:00 pm ET. 

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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