Miami HEAT at Boston Celtics Game Preview

Photo Credit: Scott Cunningham

The Miami HEAT face the Boston Celtics Wednesday night at TD Garden. The HEAT defeated the Celtics 104-98 in their last meeting on Nov. 22. 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 Miami shorthanded, what was your main takeaway from the loss to Atlanta?

Couper Moorhead: Losing a high-usage player like Goran Dragić is always going to have an adverse effect on an offense simply because of the number of possessions it adds to the responsibilities of other players (and against other starting caliber players). That said, Josh Richardson did a nice job against the Hawks in shouldering additional responsibilities but never playing outside of himself. Richardson has proved this season, after a slow start, that he’s an efficient spot-up shooter from deep, that he can pull-up for jumpers out of pick-and-roll and handoffs and that he can make timely attacks at the rim. So Monday night he simply did more of that. If the opportunity wasn’t there, he moved the ball, so the shots he took never felt forced. They were just his shots, shots he made 10 out of 19 of, there were just more of them.

Joe Beguiristain: It was a commendable effort by the HEAT, who had just nine active players on the night. As Coup mentioned above, Josh Richardson kept up his sharp play, but Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters also played well.  After falling behind by 14 points in the fourth quarter, Johnson and Waiters led the charge in Miami’s comeback bid. While Waiters took advantage in transition, Johnson attacked more in the halfcourt and posterized DeAndre' Bembry. 

As a whole, Miami defended much better in the fourth and limited Atlanta to just 36.4 percent shooting in the period. In particular, Richardson slowed down Dennis Schröder down the stretch and Bam Adebayo was quite active against Ersan İlyasova.

Although the HEAT came up short, they gave it all they had. It just wound up being too little, too late.

2: What can we learn from the way the HEAT ended Boston’s losing streak a few weeks ago?

Couper: No lead is ever safe. Boston has had a laundry list of comeback wins already this season and the game on November 22 was almost added to it as they stormed back from 18 down with a 35-point fourth quarter – a game saved by a pair of tough threes by Waiters after Boston had closed the gap to a single point.

While Boston made some uncharacteristic mistakes throughout the evening, it was one of Miami’s best defensive games of the year as they held the combination of Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier to combined 11-of-36 shooting. That’s unlikely to happen again, but the larger point is that Boston’s defense is so strong that they can absorb poor shooting from half their rotation and still put themselves into position to let Kyrie Irving lead them down the home stretch. The other side of that coin is that Boston’s defense is typically so strong that their opponent, as a bare minimum requirement, almost has to be just as good on that end of the floor in order to compete. 

Joe: We learned that the HEAT can hang with anyone in the league when they’re firing on all cylinders. While Miami nearly gave up a double-digit lead in the fourth, the team responded to adversity and got the job done. Of course, Waiters answered the call and scored eight points in the final three minutes to seal the deal.

Thanks to Kyrie Irving, the Celtics were more than capable of putting up points in a hurry in that last matchup, but they’ve actually gotten better offensively. Since Nov. 23, Boston has averaged 109.9 points per 100 possessions in 14 games. In the 19 contests prior to that (including their two matchups with the HEAT), the Celtics only scored 102.9 points per 100 possessions.

In addition to Irving, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum have been very efficient on the offensive end. We’ll see how Miami’s defense fares this time around.

3: How will the HEAT’s injuries affect this matchup?

Couper: We don’t quite know yet because we don’t quite know whether or not Goran Dragić or Justise Winslow will play after there was no status update offered at practice on Tuesday. It seems fair to expect Dion Waiters to play after he played with an illness on Monday, but James Johnson remains away from the team as does Hassan Whiteside.

If Winslow can play then Spoelstra might go back to the typical alignment of having either he or Johnson start at the four and either Kelly Olynyk or Bam Adebayo at the five. For how small Boston often plays – though Aron Baynes is fairly likely to start with Marcus Morris out. If Winslow is again out, we’ll probably see Olynyk and Adebayo together.

Goran Dragić did say he’s going to try to give it a go Wednesday night, which would push Tyler Johnson back to his usual role off the bench. This will be the decision that affects the game the most as Dragić is not only incredibly important as Miami’s primary ballhandler, but he also tends to play at a very high level against Boston in particular. Either way, Boston’s defensive coverage isn’t likely to change as they’re likely to bounce between different big man alignment as their guards pressure the ball.

Joe: It’s tough to say since the status of Goran Dragić and Justise Winslow was still up in the air at the time of this writing.

If Winslow can play, I’d expect him to start at the four alongside Kelly Olynyk. Although Olynyk struggled a bit against the Hawks, he’s still important to the offense thanks to his ability to run screen handoffs and knock down outside shots. Also, the 7-footer has started the past seven games for the HEAT, so I’d imagine Erik Spoelstra would stick with that.

As for the point guard spot, Tyler Johnson will likely get the nod if Dragić can’t play. Johnson picked up some steam in the second half against Atlanta, but the Slovenian was definitely missed. Dragić’s ability to race out in transition, get into the paint, finish at the rim and hit catch-and-shoot treys is hard to replicate. Hopefully he returns sooner rather than later.

INJURY UPDATE: Winslow (knee) has been ruled out. Dragić (elbow) is listed as doubtful.

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Highlights:

Nov. 22 – Celtics at HEAT

Oct. 28 – Celtics at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won four of six and are 15-15.
  • The Celtics have also won four of six, but enter the contest at 26-7.
  • Josh Richardson is averaging 18.6 points, 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game on 54.1 percent shooting over his last five.
  • Kyrie Irving leads Boston in points (24.4) and steals (1.3) per game.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 102.3 (23)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.2 (13)
  • Celtics Offense: 105.8 (10)
  • Celtics Defense: 101.0 (1)

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