Celtics Fall Short in Effort, Short at Buzzer vs. Heat

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving led the Boston Celtics on a furious rally against the Miami Heat Wednesday night, as he helped produce 12 points during the final 148 seconds of play to cut an 11-point deficit down to one. His potential game-winning jumper at the buzzer, however, fell short, sending the Celtics back to their locker room with a 90-89 defeat under their belts.

The comeback run was magnificent, but in truth, the Celtics shouldn’t have had to rally in the first place. There was one constant element that they needed in order to win this game, but that one constant element they did not have until the final few minutes of regulation.

“Effort,” was that element, according to Marcus Smart.

“It’s effort,” he reiterated as he solemnly leaned against the wall of the Celtics locker room with the hood of his sweatshirt drawn over his head. “We’re not talking on the defensive end. We’re coming down, playing one-on-one ball (on the offensive end). It really just comes down to effort. They beat us on a couple of loose balls. They wanted it more than us, and they got rewarded tonight.

Irving agreed with Smart, adding that the young team needs to be more persistent when it comes to sticking with the game plan.

“It got a little confusing for some guys,” said Irving, who logged 33 points, five rebounds and four assists. When it gets confusing for some guys, it gets confusing for all of us. And we collectively have to demand excellence out of one another. Just going forward, we’ve probably got to prepare a little bit more.”

During the moments when the Celtics were perplexed Wednesday night, they would often look toward coach Brad Stevens for an answer. But they know that their sideline mind can only do so much to help dig them out of challenging situations.

“We can’t always rely on coach,” said rookie Jayson Tatum, who played 28-plus minutes despite dislocating his right pinky during the first quarter. “There are five guys out there playing and you've got to communicate with each other.”

Those five guys were playing on a string to start the game, as the Celtics outscored the Heat 24-15 during the first quarter. And they were on a string at the end of the game, as well, as they finished on a 13-3 run.

But a strong start and a strong finish won’t win ball games. The middle matters just as much, and that’s where Wednesday’s game was lost.

“The first group has gotta come out and bring energy,” said Smart, who scored 15 points, all on 3-point field goals (5-of-9). “And then the second group, we have to come in there and keep that energy alive. That’s pretty much what it is.”

While Stevens hasn’t been happy with the team’s offensive stagnancy of late at TD Garden, he knows they can do much better on that end of the floor.

“We stare at plays sometimes instead of move the ball to the other side of the floor, and I think that when we do that we’re not a very good team,” said Stevens. “But when we get the ball to the other side, it’s pretty good.

“Obviously, we have done a much better job in the last 20 games offensively than we have before,” the coach added, “but the last couple ones here haven’t been exceptional by any means.”

How do they fix that moving forward? It all starts with the mentality they bring with them to New York tomorrow night when they face off against the Knicks.

“We’ve got to come out from the get-go and put our foot on the accelerator,” Smart determinedly stated. “[New York] is another good team (14-5 at home), and if we don’t come out ready to play, we’ll have the same outcome as tonight.”

If the Celtics do come out ready to play and if they maintain constant effort throughout, expect a different outcome – one that puts them back in the win column.