Miami HEAT at Boston Celtics Game Preview

Photo Credit: Brian Babineau

The Miami HEAT face the Boston Celtics Monday night at TD Garden. Tip-off is set for 6:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What did you like most about Miami’s victory in Chicago?

Couper Moorhead: That they won. This wasn’t a night of change, of new strategies or new rotations or new truths to be revealed about the team. It was the second night of a back-to-back against a team that isn’t going to make the playoffs. Those are games you just find a way to win, and the HEAT did it in the way their roster is constructed to win. Alright, so they won’t shoot 92.9 percent with an Offensive Rating of 154.5 in the fourth quarter again, but they forced tough shots – though Chicago made a chunk of those – and let their depth wear on the Bulls’ bench until they made a breakthrough. It was nice to see both Josh Richardson and Dion Waiters have solid offensive nights after Richardson had struggled a bit off and on off late and Waiters was looking for such a game after his recent return from ankle surgery, but what most people will remember from this one is everything off the court with Dwyane Wade. And that’s just fine.

Joe Beguiristain: I liked how the HEAT responded in the second half and left no room for doubt thanks to an unparalleled shooting display in the fourth quarter.

As Coup mentioned above, Miami shot the lights out in the final period, with Tyler Johnson leading the way with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-4 from downtown. However, Josh Richardson was the HEAT’s most impactful player, as he hit shots from every level and locked down Kris Dunn for most of the night.

And while Dion Waiters also did his thing, we can’t forget about Hassan Whiteside’s performance against Chicago. Not only did he lead Miami with six screen assists for 13 points, but he also paced the team with 14 contested shots on the evening. Perhaps his best sequence came early in the third when he blocked Lauri Markkanen inside and then forced an airball jumper from Dunn on the same possession.

Talk about emptying the tank.

Bam Adebayo2: What did the first game against Boston teach us about this series?

Couper: The comparison we drew at the time was to Miami’s previous win over Milwaukee at home, with the Bucks coming off the same back-to-back travel having played the night before in Boston. When Miami beat Milwaukee, it was as much about the HEAT’s ability to pack the paint and put strong bodies in front of Giannis Antetokounmpo as it was about the schedule, but we also had to take into account the Bucks having their worst shooting night of the season. So when the HEAT met Milwaukee on the road last week, they were still able to limit paint opportunities in the half-court and slow Antetokounmpo – that much still translated – but when the Bucks started to hit all those open threes the entire complexion of the game changed. Each team, in a way, had established solid and clear win conditions for the matchup.

That didn’t happen with Boston, when it felt like watching a Celtics team that had been surging just have a bad night. The Celtics made a surge in the third period thanks to some solid defense and Marcus Smart getting hot, but there was little force or energy to their offense as it relied largely on jumpers. Granted this has been an off and on issue with Boston all season, and it was only exacerbated by the HEAT shooting 18-of-39 from deep, but that’s sort of the point of all of this. The HEAT-Bucks matchup has very specific strategies at play. The HEAT-Celtics matchup, like many Celtics matchups this season, are less about the interactions between these rosters and more about which version of Boston shows up.

Joe: Above all else, that last matchup taught us that no lead is safe against Boston.

After the HEAT went up by 26 points with 8:14 left in the third quarter, the Celtics stormed back in short order and cut the deficit to just eight with 2:35 to go in the period. But of course, Dwyane Wade did Dwyane Wade things from there to close things out.

On a larger scale, that last meeting showed us just how deadly Miami can be when its offense is firing on all cylinders. You may remember that the HEAT recorded season highs in both assists and threes made against Boston, but those numbers have been steadily increasing for a little while now.

Since the start of the new year, Miami is ranked in the Top 10 in both assist percentage (66.4) and effective field goal percentage (54.1) in the nine games its played.

That’s impressive.

3: Why is three-point shooting so important for Boston?

Couper: Because it’s their strength, for better or worse, on both sides of the ball. The Celtics have, for years, been the one team in the league that has managed to defy the math and be an elite three-point percentage defense season to season – a category that is historically much more difficult to control than three-point volume – while allowing a fairly large number of threes. So when Miami hits 18 threes against them it throws their entire defense out of whack, similar to what we see when the HEAT allow too many points in the paint or fast-break points when they are specifically trying to take those away as a point of emphasis.

On the other end, Boston is very similar to Milwaukee or Golden State is how much they rely on the deep ball – nobody is quite like Houston – and when you factor in their willingness to take mid-range jumpers the Celtics are the closest offensive profile in the league to the defending champs. Take, for example, the fact that Boston only has three wins all season when hitting less than 10 threes, and that they were a couple of Marcus Smart pull-up threes away from coming in at that mark when they first played Miami. Boston gets in trouble get they don’t get to the rim enough to complement the open looks they generate, but those shots are their lifeblood.

Joe: Well, for starters, they have a slew of capable shooters on their roster, including their best player in Kyrie Irving. All told, Boston has eight players who shoot over 36 percent from deep on the season.

And in a really weird stat similarity, both Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart have each improved their three-point shooting percentage by exactly 6.7 percentage points compared to last year. In particular, Smart has been on an absolute tear of late and is shooting 51.2 percent on 5.4 attempts per game from beyond the arc over his past eight outings. And he’s doing all this while continuing to be one of the league’s best perimeter defenders.

That said, Smart’s availability for Monday remains to be seen due to an ejection his last time out against the Hawks.

We’ll see if he’s able to play.

STATUS UPDATE: Smart will be available for Boston.

HEAT at Celtics Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won three straight against the Celtics, including a 115-99 victory on Jan. 10.
  • Miami is 22-22 on the year, while Boston enters the contest at 28-18.
  • This will be the HEAT’s 13th game on MLK Day.
  • Kyrie Irving leads the Celtics in points (23.4) and assists (6.8) per game.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 106.6 (22)
  • HEAT Defense: 106.3 (6)
  • Celtics Offense: 110.9 (10)
  • Celtics Defense: 105.0 (5)

For live in-game updates of Monday night’s contest, follow @MiamiHEAT, @CoupNBA and @JoeBeguiristain on Twitter.

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