Boston Celtics at Miami HEAT Game Preview
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon
The Miami HEAT host the Boston Celtics Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Celtics 96-90 in their last meeting on Oct. 28. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: With the loss to Indiana behind them, what aspect of the game do you expect Miami to get back on track?
Couper Moorhead: It was pretty clear, both immediately after the game and in the days after, that neither the players nor the coaches were pleased with the effort level and attention to detail against the Pacers. And that, even more so than shots falling on a given night or a particularly strategy being employed, is most crucial to this Miami HEAT team. This team is, by design, meant to be one of the top defensive teams in the league and you don’t get there without working harder and longer than your opponent on the majority of NBA nights. Fortunately, a night like Sunday is more of a blip on the radar than a trend of any sort, so we should reasonably we able to expect one of the hardest-working teams in the league – not as much of a throwaway line as it sounds – to get back to being that.
Joe Beguiristain: In the days since Miami’s loss to Indiana on Sunday, the team has talked a lot about needing to improve on both ends of the floor. Not only were turnovers an issue once more against the Pacers, but also the HEAT gave up 120 points on 60 percent shooting. That said, some guys did play well, but those performances were few and far between.
The good news about all this is that Miami has acknowledged its problems and has put in work at practice to fix them. It doesn’t get any easier with the hottest team in the NBA coming to town, but the HEAT are definitely up to the challenge.
2: What has been the common thread throughout Boston’s 16-game winning streak?
Couper: Absolutely dominant defense. Boston is No. 1 defensive team in the league allowing 95.8 points per 100 possessions, and they’re even better in the second half when they’ve allowed 93.7. Boston hasn’t dominated each of those games as far as winning by 15-20 points, either. They’ve even found themselves trailing by 15 in a number of games, including against the Warriors, but each time they’ve pulled themselves back into the game by putting a stranglehold on the other team’s scoring.
What’s so unique is that other than Aron Baynes, the Celtics don’t play many true, big, traditional centers. Al Horford is of course capable of defending bigs, as he is with just about any position on the floor, but even if they don’t play huge in the middle they’re otherwise big everywhere else, with the strength and length of players like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and even Semi Ojeleye providing endless options for switching on the perimeter and contesting shots all over the floor. Not to mention that Kyrie Irving might be having the best defensive season of his career and Smart, even as he’s shooting 26.7 percent from the floor, is on the league’s All-Winning Plays team.
Joe: As Coup stated above, it’s all about defense for Boston. That shouldn’t be surprising with Brad Stevens at the helm, but the Celtics have taken things to a whole other level. While Marcus Smart and Al Horford have played very well on the defensive end as usual, newcomer Kyrie Irving has stepped up his game on that end of the floor. In fact, the 25-year-old has tallied a 97.4 defensive rating this season (which is far and away the best of his career) and has held the opposition to 0.9 percentage points lower than their usual field goal percentage. Irving has always been a dynamic offensive player with some of the best handles in the league, but this latest transformation has put him in the upper echelon.
Because of Irving and the team’s strong defensive play, Boston has been able to respond to adversity and grind out wins lately. Take Monday night’s game against Dallas as a perfect example. The Celtics held the Mavs to just 9-of-28 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime period combined, while Irving scored 17 points during that span to come away with the win after being down by 13 points in the fourth.
Long story short, Boston knows how to get the job done.
3: What did we learn from the first matchup with the Celtics?
Couper: That game lived up to most of what Boston has relied on consistently throughout this winning streak, namely defending (Miami had scoring quarters of 19 and 18) and allowing Irving to close things out in the final minutes. What stood out the most on Boston’s end, however, was the play of Tatum. Even the most heralded prospects generally aren’t expected to contribute as an overall positive in their first seasons but Tatum has at times looked like a multi-year veteran, soaring to the rim with his long arms and putting moves on some of the league’s best defenders all while shooting well from the outside. There were understandably questions about Boston’s rotations when Gordon Hayward went down on opening night but between Tatum and the poised second-year play of Brown the Celtics have been getting dynamic minutes from their wing spots.
It’s also worth noting that Hassan Whiteside did not play in the first Boston matchup. The Celtics are typically a tough matchup for him and any other bigger center because of how Boston is able to spread the floor while still defending size, but Whiteside still has a length advantage in the paint that could lead to plenty of rebounds and interior touches if the offensive execution is crisp.
Joe: With that matchup being so early into the season, we started to see just how strong the Celtics were defensively. In particular, Boston clamped down in the third quarter and held Miami to just 36.8 percent shooting in the period. That said, the HEAT stormed back in the fourth behind Goran Dragić’s spectacular play (11 points on 4-of-6 shooting) and cut the deficit to two with 2:16 remaining. Unfortunately, Irving took over from there. Despite the loss, it was still encouraging that Miami had a chance to win it in the end without Hassan Whiteside.
While things look tough on the surface for Wednesday night since the Celtics have won 16-straight games, you would think that the HEAT are hungry and ready to bounce back from their tough outing against the Pacers. After some grueling, intense practice sessions, it’s finally time to see how Miami responds. We’ll see how it all pans out.
- The HEAT are 7-9, while the Celtics enter the contest at 16-2 on a 16-game winning streak.
- Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (18.3) and assists (4.7) per game.
- Kyrie Irving leads Boston in points (22.5) and steals (1.6) per contest.
- HEAT Offense: 100.1 (26)
- HEAT Defense: 103.9 (14)
- Celtics Offense: 103.1 (20)
- Celtics Defense: 95.8 (1)