Celtics 91 - HEAT 102 Recap

MIAMI – There are many different reasons the Miami HEAT continued to impress as they took a 2-0 series lead against the Boston Celtics.

For most, it will be because they have this Boston core down two games to none for the first time since they came together before the 2007-08 season. For them, the highlights will stick out. Images pervade of Dwyane Wade shimmy-shaking Kevin Garnett in a circle and crossing Ray Allen over onto all fours, or of LeBron James decimating Rajon Rondo with a spin move in transition and expunging Garnett’s dunk attempt.

On that level, Miami’s big three (80 points) conquered Boston’s (36 points).

For others it will be Miami’s poise. Criticized much of the season for an inability to close big games, the HEAT gained their lead and protected it through every run the Celtics could muster. Miami closed quarters strong, and when Boston tied the game, 80-80, in the fourth quarter, the HEAT responded with a 14-0 and sustained the lead through the end.

“That’s the part where we showed growth,” Chris Bosh said. “That’s a great team that we’re playing. They’re going to make runs, they’re going to make plays and they’re going to take the lead. It’s just going to have that up and down effect.

“It’s all about how you react.”

But there is nothing as impressive as how the HEAT reacted on defense and the energy they conducted it with. Or the consistency with which it operated.

Yes, the HEAT’s offense, scoring 116 points per 100 possessions, was both timely and balanced, with Miami never veering too far into dribble-heavy, jump-shot offense without earning some of their 36 points in the paint for 36 free-throw attempts. Though Miami will eventually go cold on some of the shots they have relied upon, however in-rhythm they may be, they have shown enough discipline to work their sets and exploit matchups to survive when that does happen.

The reason they’ll survive and remain competitive, however, is because the defense has been nothing short of incredible.

From Mike Bibby staying in front of Rondo to Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony forcing Garnett to shoot over the top to Wade chasing Ray Allen around screens and James making Boston’s transition opportunities low-percentage shots, the defense has been a vision, both tenacious and well-read, with the patience to trust was film has told them.

Not one of Boston’s starters shot 50 percent from the field. In fact it was the Celtics bench which kept it close during its second quarter shift. No shot went uncontested, there were few easy opportunities at the rim and, as the game wore on, the Celtics needed their best ball movement just to earn an open jumper.

All told, the Celtics barely had an offensive efficiency over 100, shot 43 percent despite going 6-of-11 from three and, with Miami getting better as the game wore on, went scoreless for four crucial minutes in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps their greatest accomplishment, then, was that the HEAT made the Celtics look unlike the Celtics. They made the team that has seen every possible situation in the playoffs search for answers.

That’s knowledge that Miami will carry through the next three days until Game 3 in Boston, but it’s also knowledge that can lend itself to overconfidence. We’ve quickly learned that Erik Spoelstra is prone to saying that a playoff series doesn’t start until a team wins on the road, and that maintaining the mental edge is imperative.

Because for all the offensive highlights, at some point, most likely soon, the Celtics will find another level and the offense the HEAT are earning will become tougher to earn, and the percentages will play out on low-percentage shots. But with this defense, they can win anywhere. Defense that has little to do with statistics, achievements or narrative. Defense that starts in the brain.

“The series is far, far, far, far from over,” James said. “It’s really just beginning for us. We did what we wanted to do, and that’s protect home court.

“I don’t have any emotion right now. It’s a long series. I’m not getting too high or getting too low.”