Coup’s Takeaways: Boston’s Best Offense Better Than Miami’s As HEAT Drop First Of Two Against The Celtics

1. Those first few minutes sure didn’t look great. Boston jumped out to a 20-6 lead on the strength of 6-of-7 shooting from three and you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking it was the start of a long night at that point. But just as soon as that thought entered your mind the HEAT responded with a 21-5 flurry of their own and we had ourselves a real game. Another 12-0 Boston run in the middle of the second quarter – with 28 first-half points from Jayson Tatum – gave them an eight-point lead at the break, but at that point HEAT had their foothold.

Not much more you can ask from the HEAT from an offensive perspective as they hovered around 50 percent from three most of the evening, making 18-of-39, and put up and Offensive Rating of 124.7. Every time Boston would go up seven or eight the HEAT would respond with an anything you can do I can do better three or two of their own. The problem was Boston kept going up seven or eight – they were just as incredible from three, making 22-of-45 –and eventually those counter-punch threes stopped falling for the HEAT. Bam Adebayo did all he could to keep the offense chugging along, but at that point late in the fourth Miami was, at best, trading twos for Boston’s threes, and the clock wasn’t waiting for them to put another run together. Miami fell, 134-121, by the time the final buzzer hit, but that may as well have been the only time since the first quarter that they found themselves down double digits. 

Credit Tatum for an incredible night, as there really wasn’t much he didn’t do with 49 points on 25 shots. Behind him, Boston matched the HEAT’s shooting every step of the way as they scored 135 points per 100. Even as the HEAT’s defense has been up and down all season, the Celtics are scoring as efficiently as any team in league history right now and probably had the better, more consistent perimeter looks for most of the night. HEAT get another shot at the No. 1 team in the East on Friday.

2. Adebayo (23 points on 20 shots) continues to keep the HEAT’s early offense above water with Butler out. That might be an understatement tonight considering Miami’s shotmaking up and down the board – Haywood Highsmith going 3-of-3 from deep in the first half was huge, and even Adebayo hit his first three of the season – but it was Adebayo again who was consistently able to create shots when everything else slowed to a crawl. Everything you’ve seen for the past couple weeks was on display, the short jumpers, the creative finishes, eating up all the space offered by opposing centers. And when the threes stopped falling in the fourth, Adebayo’s self-creation was all the offense had left. Not his most efficient night, but the HEAT need volume creation just as much as the shotmaking right now and Adebayo has been outstanding in shouldering that load.

Boston still might’ve run away with things were it not for Max Strus, however, as he made five threes in the third quarter for 23 points overall. Nothing complicated, just pure Ellen Ripley coming off handoffs with a flamethrower action. Adebayo kept Miami hanging around in the first half. Strus kept them within six after three. Everyone else chipped in for one of the best offensive performances of the season.

3. No team faced more zone defense than Boston last season so there was zero chance the HEAT – playing more zone than any team in league history – were going to catch them either by surprised or unprepared. Even when the HEAT tried to run zone in the Eastern Conference Finals, which they only did for 30 possessions in seven games, the Celtics scored at a rate well above what would be the best in the league.

When Atlanta led off the game with an alley-oop dunk against the zone a few days ago, all concerns were quickly quieted as the Hawks struggled to attack the scheme for the rest of the night. But when Boston started off this one with a dunk of their own, it was unfortunately a sign of things to come. There’s always an element of variance with zone, as you’re going to give up some threes just because of how you space the floor and teams are going to make shots sometimes. As well as Boston shot, that wasn’t what stuck out the most. It was the fact that the Celtics looked just as fluid and comfortable against the zone as they did against man-to-man, rarely missing a beat as Miami tried toggling between the different coverages. A few pockets of stagnation for Boston in the second half, but they were still scoring so well it didn’t amount to much on that side of the court. What the HEAT are doing defensively is unprecedented, and even though the Celtics had plenty of answers in this one we can only continue to learn what high-volume zone really looks like over time and against the best competition. Good news is they at least were able to play to the scouting report from last season and force 17 turnovers, playing as handsy as they have all season.