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HEAT 82 - Celtics 85 Recap

The Miami HEAT are now 0-3 against the Boston Celtics after losing, 82-85, Sunday. And for the third time, after trailing by double digits in the second half, the HEAT brought themselves within two possessions of the lead.

But this time it felt different, because the HEAT were trying to be a different team than what they were in October and November.

For the past few weeks, Miami has been a team dedicated to creating transition opportunities off defensive stops and scoring off ball and player movement in their halfcourt sets. They fell short of the former goal Sunday, primarily because few of Boston’s 11 turnovers resulted in a live ball, but the intent was there for the latter.

“We know we’re making strides but at the same, we’re competitors, we want to win,” LeBron James (22 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) said. “It’s going to take time. I have the same feeling right now as I had when I was in my third and four year and we played Detroit, and we just could not get over the hump.

“I’ve been in this position before, where you just go against a team and you play well, you continue to play well, and a ball doesn’t go your way and you lose the game. You just got to keep pushing.”

You could see the HEAT pushing because all of that movement is exactly what Boston set out to try and stop. In any of Miami’s sets that rely on a player making a cut to either earn a look or simply get to the position that keeps the play functioning, the Celtics simply ran them off their line of attack, getting in front and playing physically. And when they fell short of doing that, the Celtics pressured the ball – using Rajon Rondo on LeBron James – to ensure that the timing off the pass was, at the very least, thrown off.

Rather than reverting to the stagnant, isolation-heavy style of the early season, the HEAT insisted on trying to earn better opportunities. Twice, when the ball swung around the perimeter and the defense was rotating, Chris Bosh (24 points, 10 rebounds) was able to hit a player under the rim for an easy hoop.

In the fourth quarter, after three consecutive possessions of LeBron James creating largely on his own, the HEAT followed up with a play where all five players touched the ball, both Eddie House and Bosh created off the dribble, and Wade went to the free-throw line after cutting baseline and receiving an interior pass from Bosh.

And the ball routinely found open shooters, who were simply cold from the perimeter at 3-of-16 from three. Which may be all the game boiled down to.

After James hit 1-of-2 from the free-throw line and Glen Davis hit a pair to put Boston up three with 6.3 seconds left, the HEAT executed a sidelines-out-of-bounds play to perfection, earning Mike Miller an open look from the top. He missed, and the HEAT lost.

“Whatever happens during the course of the game, you want to simply give yourself a chance there at the end, and we had a chance,” Spoelstra said. “It could have swung either way, but we weren’t able to get over that hump.”

Supposedly, that’s the sort of loss that ascribes Miami a certain fate come the postseason, but taken on its own, it’s another step in the team’s evolution. Whether or not some open shots fall in the final minutes, the HEAT, in their ugliest and most physical game of the season, did not revert as much to the easier, home-run style of offense that Erik Spoelstra laments.

Adding to that, none of that offensive effort took away from the defense. Just 42 percent shooting for the Celtics and exactly 100 points per 100 possessions, a mark below the league’s worst average. In the first quarter, Boston scored 15. In the fourth, Miami won 21-11.

“We’re always going to give ourselves a chance to win because we defend so well,” James said. “We just didn’t win the game. We didn’t get enough stops and we didn’t make enough shots down the stretch.”

It was a 20-3 run, during which Miami shot 1-for-7, to open the quarter that was Boston’s slow-acting poison – the sort of post-halftime run that they’ve thrived on for the past four years. Nothing new in a game that, for Boston, was full of the expected. It was Miami that seemed different. And if they continue to trend upward, a February loss which came down to open shots and 50-50 balls might be nothing more than another building block.

“You got to get over the hump, and we’re getting close and close but we’re not there yet, so we continue to learn from it,” Dwyane Wade said. “We continue to know what’s ahead of us.”