Coup’s Takeaways: Boston Punches Back With Defense And Shooting To Even The Series
1. For a few minutes, everything looked fine. Max Strus was getting open, shots were falling, and the HEAT were up 15-8. It wasn’t exactly the third quarter of Game 1, but there was nothing worth being too concerned about. Miami, for the moment, looked like they were operating as usual. Then, everything flipped. Four minutes into the second quarter, the score was 47-28.
Just as quick as Game 1 turned after the break when the HEAT rediscovered their own identity playing physical and precise defense and letting that effort power their offense, this time Boston was the team finding itself. Their switching flattened the HEAT out, their lights-out shooting (20-of-40 from three) and paint attacks kept the HEAT playing in the halfcourt, and the visitors were the more physical, more disciplined team. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart all topped 24 points, with only Jimmy Butler topping 20 on the HEAT’s side, but they won with the same feedback loop – offense setting up the defense feeding the offense – that the HEAT used to win the opening stanza.
Boston was up by as much as they were up – 34 at the largest lead, but consistently over after their major runs – because they were hitting just about everything. But that wasn’t why they won. The Celtics outplayed the HEAT in this one, winning 127-102. Better process and better results is a deadly combination. The disparity in three-point shooting, with the Celtics outscoring Miami by 30 from the arc, is a story but not the story.
2. To state the obvious, Marcus Smart and Al Horford matter quite a bit for Boston – just as Kyle Lowry does for Miami. On the defensive side of things, their returns allowed the Celtics to get back to switching as much as they would like to. Outside of a few early possessions, the HEAT weren’t able to attack drop coverage nearly as often. Instead, the switching flattened out their approach, something we saw on occasion during the regular season, and eliminated some of their favorite actions to spring shooters free. This time around, two-on-the-ball situations were few and far between, and a team that doesn’t attack one-on-one unless they’re hunting a specific matchup was left doing exactly that without matchups to hunt. That Miami only assisted on 55 percent of their made shots – a number that was lower for most of the game – is a good indicator that this wasn’t the best version of their attack.
On the other end, Boston’s offense stabilized. With Smart able to take ballhandling duties away from Tatum, giving Tatum the chance to find his spots, and Horford, the ever-confident veteran at the top the key, all those pick-six turnovers the HEAT were thriving on in Game 1 evaporated. Boston was down to nine turnovers, and Miami’s fast-break points shrunk to eight. As Lowry’s presence gets everyone back to their most optimal and natural spots, Boston’s two starters had the same effect.
3. If there was one unequivocal positive – with apologies to Gabe Vincent, who shot 4-of-8 from three and was generally solid the whole way through – it was that Butler was once again incredible as he seemed to try and single handedly will a comeback into existence in the second half. He is by far Miami’s best isolation player, so with Boston forcing a ton of those possessions Butler shouldered the burden and attacked just about anyone the Celtics put in front of him – though Boston deserves credit for limiting easy switches and not giving Butler the few smaller players they have as easily as they did down the stretch of Game 1.
The question here is should Butler have to be doing so much to keep Miami hanging around? As great as Butler has been, and to this point he’s having one of the best playoff runs in at least recent memory, there’s only so much one player can do attacking from the triple-threat. Especially when that style of offense is needed outside of short bursts or closeout situations. It’s notable that Butler had to again take 18 shots in 33 minutes, with nobody else taking more than 11, and his assists were down to three. Miami’s offense has always been about more than the individual. No matter what the Celtics are doing, the key to this series might be about getting back to who they are even as Butler continues to thrive. That, or at the very least finding ways to score off their dominant defense as they did during that third quarter in Game 1.