Coup’s Takeaways: Boston Takes Control In Second Half To Keep Their Season Alive

1. If we’ve learned anything about this particular HEAT group, it’s that you have to actually beat them to beat them. Their details are too precise, too consistent, to ever get in their own way. You can’t just play well and expect them to lose.

To Boston’s credit, they didn’t expect anything from Miami. They beat them, outright.

Boston played better in this one, maybe better than they’ve played since the first half of Game 1. They shot better, too, finally getting a handful of threes to fall. But the first half was always being played on Miami’s terms – at their pace, with their physicality, according to their rules of half-court engagement. The Celtics could move the ball better and find cleaner threes, but off the dribble they still couldn’t find a way to consistently crack Miami’s defensive shell, leading to just 16 paint points in the first two quarters. The HEAT, meanwhile, found advantage after advantage. Either Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo attack matchups that they like – Butler kept getting Derrick White on him just about whenever he wanted, though Boston brought a bit more help this time – or Miami’s constant movement and precise spacing tilted Boston’s rotations, forcing high-processing speed help and giving 

All of which is to say, the HEAT led 56-50 at the break despite not playing their best. It was as much their game as it had been their series to that points, always the aggressors as Boston – with only White in double figures as Jayson Tatum struggled with four turnovers –labored to solve problems on the fly.

There was a brief moment early in the third, with Miami up nine, where it felt like the HEAT were about to break the game wide open just like they did at the same time in Game 3. A handful of missed shots and turnovers – which had generally not been an issue all series – and suddenly Boston was ahead 68-61 off a 16-0 run. You have to actually beat Boston to beat them, too, not for the same reasons as the HEAT but because of their sheer wealth of talent. There was a chance for Boston to break it open in their own direction, especially with Adebayo in foul trouble, but Jimmy Butler – scoring 13 of Miami’s 23 points in the period, 29 on 21 shots overall – found ways to grind out some points and keep the deficit in the single digits. Boston by nine going into the fourth, with their season literally on the line.

As Erik Spoelstra typically does when the defense starts slipping, he threw a changeup to open the fourth, going to their zone defense while Butler caught some rest. Slowly, Miami ate into the lead, getting within five. Then Tatum (33 points on 22 shots) came back in, hitting a jumper in the middle of the zone, and it was quickly back to nine. Then 17 with seven minutes to play, Tatum righting the offensive ship. And that was that, 116-99, with Miami’s first chance to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals gone. Good thing they have another chance coming up as soon as Thursday.

2. While we led the previous section talking about how few mistakes the HEAT generally make, which is generally true, there were second-half mistakes that jumped out at anyone watching. Fumbled passes. Missed dribbles. A grind-it-out aspect to the offense at times which was the antithesis to all the constant motion that had carried them to their 3-0 series lead. Even if they were able to score out of some of their favorite sets – an empty corner screen from Adebayo still gets plenty of feet in the paint – only those specific sets gathered much traction as the game wore on. And those miscues, 16 turnovers in all, fed the Celtics offense – still prone to getting stuck in the mud on occasion unless Tatum was running the show – in the same way Boston’s turnovers have fed the HEAT for going on two seasons.

Only 10 turnovers from Boston, too, all their makes – 51 percent shooting overall – keeping Miami in the halfcourt. That’s the been the synergistic story of this matchup in both of the last two meetings, big runs created via the snowball effect of makes helping the defense get set which stabilizes matchups and coverages which then gets stops and gets a team moving out with pace – hence Boston’s 18 fast-break points. Turnovers were always going to be a huge part of this series, and the Celtics winning that column tonight, as Miami’s details slipped just a little, was a big reason they kept their season alive.

3. All that shotmaking finally caught up to Miami tonight, it seems, and the opposite – or maybe the same – was true for the Celtics. It’s tough to keep putting up historic shooting nights throughout a postseason run, but with the regularity that Miami was doing it you can’t blame anyone for expecting it to keep up in perpetuity. Early on, it looked like exactly that was happening. But as the quarters wore on and more shots hit iron, the three-point percentages dipped down, first below 40 percent, then 30, then 20 – a range Miami has so rarely been in these playoffs. By the end of the night, it was 25 percent, including 5-of-25 shooting above the break where the HEAT had been shooting about as well as anyone in the history of the NBA playoffs. We’ll see what the numbers come out as far as Shot Quality goes, but it felt like a generally similar process, if fairly low volume. Just can’t make half your threes every night. Notable, too, that in that third quarter and early in the fourth when the game finally turned for the worse, there were a number of misses in the paint – 4-of-13 in their bread-and-butter upper paint overall.

Boston, meanwhile, found their shooting. They were too good not to find it eventually, Miami just wanted to finish this series off before that had a chance to happen. Al Horford hit a bunch early, Grant Williams – now firmly in the rotation after being out of it entirely in Game 1 – paced them through the middle quarters and then Tatum finished things off, shooting 4-of-8 from three. There were some tough makes in there, but Boston deserves credit for finding more catch-and-shoot opportunities, settling for fewer first-chance shots in the first eight seconds of the shot clock.

Here’s the last thing that need be said on this topic. For as much as the HEAT have sustained incredible shooting for games on end – slumping in the New York series – the Celtics as just as capable as doing the same. This isn’t Boston winning the game they shot well, it’s Boston winning a game shooting as well as they expect to shoot. That can be dangerous going forward.