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5 takeaways from Celtics' road victory over rival Heat

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combine for 57 points in Miami, leading Boston to its 1st 2-0 start since 2009-10.

Game Recap: Celtics 111, Heat 104

MIAMI – There figured to be a little grudge aspect to the Heat’s clash Friday night against their rivals, the Boston Celtics, at FTX Arena.

After all, when we last saw these teams on the floor together, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, Jimmy Butler went for the hero moment in a two-point game, dribbling up court and right into a 3-pointer from the top with 16 seconds – and one Miami timeout – left.

He missed. The Celtics went to the Finals, the Heat went fishing.

By last night’s game, though, it wasn’t so much that May elimination that grated on Miami as it was the team’s performance in the season opener Wednesday against Chicago. Forty-eight hours removed, not five months, they knew they had failed a dozen different ways in the loss to the Bulls.

This one was better, but still a 111-104 Boston victory that left the Heat 0-2 for the first time since 2007-08. Miami wound up dropping 15 of its first 19 games that season, Pat Riley’s last as coach, so this is something it wants to nip in the bud ASAP.

Here are five takeaways beyond Boston’s first 2-0 start since 2009-10:

1. It’s still the defense vexing Miami

The Heat gave up 116 points in their opener to a Bulls lineup missing starters Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball. Unacceptable! Shaving that to 111 points against Boston qualified as an improvement. So did the role Miami defenders played in forcing 20 Celtics turnovers, the main reason it got up 13 more shots than the visitors.

Progress? Well, in the toughness and 50-50 ball departments, yes. But Boston as a team hit the vaunted 50/40/90 mark, its shooters collectively making 52.9% of their field goals, 42.4% of their 3-pointers and 15-for-15 free throws. Nobody’s buying the Heat a cake for numbers like that.

“I feel like all our shots were in each player’s wheelhouse,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “It’s really not our offense – I feel like we scored enough points to win. It’s the other end we’ve got to lock in on.”

Lock and stay locked. For all the turnovers Miami worked to cause, it had lapses that undid that peskiness.

The most egregious came with about 90 seconds left, the Heat within 104-99. Boston’s Marcus Smart was biding his time with his dribble before scraping off a Jayson Tatum screen and accelerating into the lane. Miami’s Tyler Herro switched off Smart, then chased after him, prompting Jimmy Butler to edge out toward Tatum. That left Smart unimpeded to the rim for a layup that all but clinched it.

Personnel is the key to Miami’s defense backslide. P.J. Tucker is gone and Herro is a starter now, a glaring exchange of D for O. It has juggled the pecking order for shots, while rendering the Heat somewhat toothless at the other end. For now at least.

2. Boston’s beautiful 2-headed monster

Despite the great scorers in the Celtics’ storied history, you have to go all the way back to Hall of Famer Sam Jones in 1965 to find a player who put up at least 30 in each of their first two games of a season. This year’s crew has two who came tantalizingly close.

Tatum and Jaylen Brown each scored 35 Tuesday against Philadelphia. Then Tatum got 29 and Brown 28 against the Heat. So that’s 64 for Tatum, 63 for Brown with 80 games to go.

“We feel it, and I hope you guys can see it, how much fun we have playing together,” Tatum told reporters afterward.

Long gone are the days when the two dynamic wings seemed locked in a tug o’ war for offensive supremacy. Settling into a cooperative was part of Boston’s transformation after two months last season, leading in time to the Finals. Now they’re not just copacetic, they’re co-conspirators.

The big difference this time was Brown sitting down with 5:44 left in the game, saddled with his fourth foul. Tatum got the full focus of Miami’s defensive energy from that point but scored six of the Celtics’ final 11 points.

3. Bench trial for the Heat? Guilty

Naturally, Victor Oladipo is unavailable again these days with continued soreness in his left knee. Backup big Omer Yurtseven is out with a left ankle issue too. But Miami’s bench still should have been able to muster more support, based on the 40 points it produced against the Bulls.

This time, the Heat subs got outscored 27-21 while shooting 9-for-23. And only guard Gabe Vincent, with 17 points on 7-for-13, showed any real resiliency.

This is not a deep team. Unless the rotation reserves perk up soon, coach Erik Spoelstra might have to call on the team’s resident Yoda, Udonis Haslem, to log some minutes. Yikes.

4. Half-steps for Adebayo, Lowry

Despite Friday’s loss, guard Kyle Lowry showed some improvements with 17 points after scoring only 2 points in Miami’s opener 2 days earlier.

The Herro transition shoved a stick into Miami’s gears, with the NBA’s 2021-22 Kia Sixth Man now forced to find the 17 shots he averaged last season in the starting lineup. If he doesn’t take them from Jimmy Butler, then Adebayo and Kyle Lowry are the ones mostly likely to feel pilfered. (Tucker averaged just six shots in his 28 minutes nightly last season.)

So in the opener, Lowry took seven, made only one and scored two points. Adebayo got up 15 but made just five. Nobody seemed happy with that distribution.

This time, both were more aggressive. Adebayo hit his first six shots, finished 8-for-11, scored 20 and might have gotten more if not for battling foul trouble. While he was on the court, Miami was 20 points better than Boston.

Lowry’s accuracy wasn’t great – 4-for-13 – but he was a full-fledged catalyst with 17 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals.

5. Celtics win while learning

Funny what a couple of victories or losses can do. Miami was left to scratch for bright spots while the Celtics were buoyant despite facing some considerably early-season challenges.

Remember, their interim coach is Joe Mazzulla, an assistant suddenly thrown into the breach when Ime Udoka was suspended for the season for violating team policies. A valuable summertime acquisition, Danilo Gallinari, went down for the season with a torn ACL. Then there’s the addition of veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon.

But Brogdon looks pretty comfortable already. And Sam Hauser, a 24-year-old sharpshooter who played last season on a two-way contract, hit two 3-pointers Friday, made 44% of such shots in college and has some Boston folks convinced he can plug Gallinari’s spot.

As for Mazzulla, he has a low-key intensity not unlike Udoka. And at 2-0, he already is ahead of the legendary Red Auerbach’s pace. (The cantankerous one started out 0-3 before going 795-397 with nine championships over 16 seasons in Boston.)

Keep in mind, as one Boston assistant noted Friday, this squad played under a brand-new head coach in his first season in 2021-22 and got all the way to the Finals. They seem fine breaking in another, so far at least.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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