It may just be the second game of the season, but make no mistake, tonight's Celts home opener means more than just your typical run of the mill late October NBA game. While it may only count as one game in the standings, don't be naive. For the first time since getting punked repeatedly both on their home floor and on the road, the Celts face their boogeyman tonight with the Miami Heat coming to town.
Until proven otherwise, I think that's a fair thing to call both Jimmy Butler and the Heat. They have proven to be the Celts' boogeyman. Regular season, playoffs, it hasn't really mattered. Nobody in the league gets under the Celts' skin quite like the Heat. They force the Celtics to play braindead basketball pretty much every time they play. They are not intimidated, they back up their shit talking, and winning at the Garden is not a foreign concept for that group.
So why is tonight so important?
Well, the entire Celts offseason was practically shaped around beating teams and defenses like MIA. That's not me saying it, that's Brad Stevens saying it
One of the glaring issues the Celts have had facing this team is they really struggle at abusing the Heat switches (not to mention the zone struggles as well). So what did Brad do? He brought in a switch and zone buster in Kristaps Porzingis. Tonight we get our first look at how different the Celts now attack a team and a defense that has a fairly large sample of making their life a living hell. So while it's just a regular season game, there's more to it than that. We get to see Brad's vision go up against the very thing he set out to figure out earlier this summer.
There's also the mental aspect of this matchup. When you let a team come into your building and beat you three seperate times, the last of which was a Game 7 on your floor with a spot in the Finals on the line, I am interested to see how the Celts respond. At some point they cannot keep letting Jimmy Butler & Co come into their building and bully the shit out of them. Show us you've figured that shit out.
Then of course there's the Jaylen angle. No doubt about it, his ECF was the worst playoff series of his career. The Heat had him in hell every time he put the ball on the floor. You know they are once again going to collapse the paint every time he drives, so let's see some progress there from Jaylen. Can he keep his head up and make the right passes rather than driving into traffic with no plan? We saw flashes of it the other night against the Knicks, but the Heat voodoo mind tricks are a different story. Again, they somehow continue to make both Jay's play braindead basketball.
That's right, Tatum isn't absolved from this issue either. Remember his issues late in the 4th quarter in Game 1 of the ECF?
Or his late game issues in one of their meetings during the year when they scored only 13 4th quarter points in a 98-95 loss?
Like I said, braindead basketball.
So I would also like to see improvement from Tatum in these situations as well. He's going to be the guy with the ball in his hands late, which means his decision making is of the utmost importance. The Heat thrive in these late clutch game situations, it's essentially all they play. Hell, even in their opening win this season it came with 1 point clutch time victory over the Pistons. This is just who they are, and way too often do we see the Celts completely fold in those moments against this team. To me, that starts and stops with their two best players.
There's obviously the H2H tiebreaker stuff to factor in as well because you never know how that might shake out come the Spring, so yeah, while this is just Game 2 of 82, it's not really that simple in my eyes. When a team has blocked you from the Finals in 2 of the last 4 years and seems to have a mental edge over you, every time you play it means more.
With how the Celts roster is now constructed, on paper they seem to have the pieces to correct a lot of the issues that caused so many problems in previous matchups. Now, instead of Smart taking those open 3s against the zone, it's going to be Porzingis. You can now also throw him at the nail as a pretty easy zone buster. You know Spo is going to cook up something crazy as a counter, so I'm interested to see how Joe and the players adapt.
But really at the end of the day, tonight is about pride. Have some fucking pride and stop letting Butler and the Heat come into your building and have their way with you. We're at the point where nobody, from the players to the fans should be underestimating the Heat and what they are capable of, regardless of what their roster looks like. It always felt like maybe that was an issue for the Celts before, so tonight is their first chance to show us things have changed.