If going into last night the idea was that this matchup was an opportunity for either side to send a message, well I think we can all agree that the Boston Celtics went down to South Beach and did just that. For the second time this season we saw the Celts be completely unbothered by whatever the Heat tried to do, making it very clear that as of now, they do not have an answer for the new look Celtics. I'm sorry if this offends, it's simply just the truth
Since falling to 0-3 in the ECF, these two teams have played a total of 6 times. The Celtics have won 5 of them. And yes, the lone loss will haunt us all forever, but I'm inclined to believe given what we've seen over this stretch that had Tatum not gotten hurt 7 seconds into that game there's a solid chance that record is 6-0. The point is, we all know that this is a team that historically has given the Celts problems, so to see them respond the way they have matters.
Let me just ask you this. At any point in either games this year did you ever get the sense that the Celts were being mentally dominated? Did you ever get the sense that this team was unable to execute because all of their brains suddenly turned to mush? Have you said to yourself, "Damn, the Celts are struggling against the Heat zone again?"
I'll ask you to read those numbers above again and then tell me your answer, because it should be no.
Brad had one goal this summer, and that was to eliminate the threat of teams just like MIA. Tough, switchable defenses who can guard 1-5, a team that isn't going to be intimidated and one that probably feels they mentally own the Celtics.
That may have been then, but this is now. In 2023-24,
To me, I see a team that is sick of the Heat's bullshit voodoo black magic. Maybe this is maturity, maybe it's the revamped roster, maybe it's the fact that everyone is pissed off over what happened in 2023, but so far this season we've seen both sides throw out their stars and only one thing has continued to happen, the Celtics have kicked some serious ass.
No, nothing we see from October to April will guarantee anything come the Spring. That's not really what this is about and anyone who suggests otherwise is full of shit. The regular season is a process, with games along the way that serve as good measuring stick opportunities and tests. Every time the Celts play the Heat, it's one of those opportunities, regardless of the outcome. It's not a situation where only the wins matter and the losses don't. If the Celts come out and play like shit against this team, it matters. If they come out and blow doors like we've seen so far this year, that matters.
Obviously postseason matchups are different from regular season matchups, but last time I checked it's only January 26th. All we can do is go off what we've seen in the games and opportunities that have been available. Who knows what the future holds, but man does the present feel pretty fucking good.
Let us begin.
- I've played this video a bunch and guess what? I'm going to continue to do it whenever these two teams play.
Listen to what Brad Stevens said, take it in and digest it, and then watch this
In 2 games against MIA this year (both wins), we're seeing Porzingis average 18 points a game on 57/50% splits. Brad said it in June, we as fans have said it every day since, the addition of KP to this lineup is the ultimate cheat code, especially against a team like the Heat. When he's on the floor they can't switch, they can't play zone, and they can't play man because their perimeter defenders are too small for the guards and the wings. The impact is unfolding JUST like Brad described 7 months ago and it's the biggest reason things feel different this time around between these two teams. The Heat legitimately have not shown the ability to have an answer for what KP brings on both ends, and that is a huge deal.
In previous versions, we'd see the Heat be able to switch someone like Jimmy Butler onto a big and that would sort of eliminate that player as an offensive option. Al wasn't really pulling out jumpers, and we certainly no Rob wasn't. KP? This is a layup for him
Now, if the Heat have a miscommunication in the P&R or they try and trap the ball handler, look at where this man is knocking down open looks from
Oh, you wanted to maybe go zone to switch things up? That's cute. This man is 7'3, easily sees over everyone and has the passing instincts to make the right play and kill that zone with ease
This is it. This is the answer to the MIA puzzle. Run P&R with Derrick, the 2 man game with Jaylen, the pick & pops, the sitting at the nail and simply shooting over a defender, exploiting the Heat switches at a consistent and high level, these are things that the Celts offense has been missing in this matchup and why the Heat have been able to feast in prior meetings.
And yeah, I'm nervous as shit about his rolled ankle. Who wouldn't be? But that doesn't change the fact that we now have a growing sample of evidence that suggests the Celts have figured out their Heat problem. From the roster Brad built, to how Joe is coaching it, to how the players are executing. No mental breakdowns, no scoring droughts, no careless basketball. Just buckets.
- In a game like this, with the Celts rested and motivated, it's important that your star players show up and do star player shit. We've all lived through Jaylen's ECF, we lived through some brutal late game mistakes from Tatum in high pressure situations, so these games are every bit of a test for the two best players on the roster as everyone else.
The reason things may feel different this time around? The best players aren't fucking around
I loved pretty much everything about Tatum's performance in this game on both ends of the floor. I loved his approach early as pretty much everything was at the rim, I love his 10 FTA which now marked the 3rd straight game he's had at least 10, I loved his efficiency, I loved how he only had 1 TO, and maybe most importantly I love how he only needed to play 32 minutes.
There was no disappearing. There was no complaining about calls and letting the Heat get into his head which would then force him to play a style of basketball that leads to mistakes. I looked at Tatum's performance as his way of showing that as the team's best player, things start with him. If he's locked in and ready to go, everyone else will follow.
22/8/5 in the first win, 26/8/4 in the second win. Just like with KP, the Heat haven't really had an answer for Tatum either.
- The thing is, Tatum sort of always kills everyone he plays. That's why he is who he is. When it comes to this matchup, it's safe to say that the star who had the most issues was Jaylen. There's no way to spin it, the ECF was the worst series of his career. Since then, you get the sense that he is EXTREMELY motivated every time these two teams play
A nice little 18/4/5/3 on 7-11 (4-8) in his 27 minutes, I'm going to go so far as to say Jaylen takes this matchup personal. I didn't even mind his 3 TOs, because they all came from trying to create for others. It wasn't like the ECF where we saw decision making and dribbling issues. I can live with what we got last night. I don't love it, but I can live with it.
The shooting is whatever to me too. I know Jaylen can shoot. I continue to be impressed with how he's passing the ball in these matchups. The plays that were low percentage drives that more often than not resulted in TOs, are now resulting in lobs and assists. Watching Jaylen last night and in the first meeting you can tell his approach has changed in a sense that I don't really get the feeling he's driving without a plan. He's slowed things down and let the game come to him, understanding that you don't need to do anything crazy to beat the Heat, just make the simple play. You don't need to force a shot over 3 defenders, just lob it to the center.
Then you add in his tough shot making ability, and again I'll ask where is the solve on the Heat side? If you're not turning Jaylen over and he's now making the right decisions with the ball while also being an efficient scorer, chances are you're going to find yourself in a bit of trouble.
- I'm just going to say this. It might be time to start putting a little more respect on Joe Mazzulla's name
All I hear about is how Coach Spo is the best coach in basketball and Joe got pantsed etc etc. Well, last time I checked he's now won 5 of 6 against Spo, and if not for a sprained ankle probably complete the biggest comeback in NBA history against him too.
It didn't matter what Spo and the Heat tried last night, Joe and the players were ready with a counter. Doubling didn't work, the zone didn't work, trapping didn't work, man to man didn't work. I could make the case that it's actually been Joe who has been doing the pantsing lately in this coaching matchup. The weird anti-Joe losers won't want to acknowledge this, but the proof is in the pudding.
I know this, had the roles been reversed, we all know what narrative would be the loudest right now.
- Aside from KP and the Jay's dominance, we also saw how much of an issue the Heat are going to face in this matchup when it comes to their guards. I love Terry Rozier and always will, but you put him next to Tyler Herro and who exactly is that backcourt stopping defensively? They are too small.
Jrue and Derrick got pretty much whatever they wanted. With Holiday it was the presence of mind to use his size to backdown whoever and finish in the paint, and then kill the Heat with dagger after dagger from the corner.
With Derrick, it was more of the same for him too. Back to shooting with confidence, back to being aggressive, creating for others and taking care of the basketball.
As we know, when the Celts get elite guard play in addition to everything else, good fucking luck. I'd say 37 points on 13-20 (6-13) with 11 AST and only 4 TOs qualifies.
This problem for the Heat isn't all that different from a problem many teams face that have to play the Celts. If you don't have size and the ability to shut them off on the perimeter, you're cooked. The Heat used to be able to go to the zone in this instance, and it used to fuck everything up. Now with KP involved, they can't do that so it forces their roster to actually try and guard their yard, which as we saw last night they have a pretty tough time doing against this sort of size.
- 36 assists and only 11 TOs as a team is the type of ball movement and ball security that you dream of. We all know the one thing you can't do against MIA is fall into bad isolation habits, and turn the ball over. Given their offensive issues in the halfcourt, they thrive on transition baskets and points off TOs. The Celts shut both of those options off last night and it made all the difference in the world.
- Great showings from Luke Kornet and Pritchard off the bench too. I did not think we'd live in a world where Luke Kornet and Bam Adebayo would be in the game at the same time and Kornet would be the best center on the floor, but here we are. It happened and we all saw it.
Even if there was one or two possessions where Pritchard was targeted due to his size, I love that he didn't let it get in his head. Another 11/3 with 0 TOs in his 23 minutes on 4-7 (1-2), Pritchard continues to provide as solid backip PG minutes as you could realistically ask for.
Then you add in Al's 8/7/6 off the bench too, and I loved how there really wasn't any sort of drop off once Joe went to his second unit. The Celts never had a quarter under 30 points!
- Shoutout to dominating a 3rd quarter. Crazy what can happen when this team doesn't poop their pants coming out of the break. Part of their success was the fact that we saw the Celts be MUCH better at closing quarters in this game, especially the 3rd quarter with Tatum on the bench. Getting that lead back up to 13 while Tatum sat was exactly the way this team needs to be closing quarters at all times.
Good shots, no turnovers, and stops. You get into the final 2 minutes of a quarter, that is what I want to see.
- I've already said 15 prayers for KP's ankle. I suggest you do the same.
- While we're on the topic of injuries, fuck Caleb Martin for this shit
You weren't going to make a play dude, stop being such a reckless hardo. If you wonder why Tatum hangs on the rim, plays like this are why. You can't be touching ANYONE once they're in the air, yet somehow that's not a foul. This could have been disastrous and was entirely avoidable.
- If we're using these games as an opportunity to put a pin in things that stand out, there's one area where I didn't think the Celts were all that great in, and that's their P&R defense. In a playoff series I imagine we'd see a whole lot more of that involving Bam, and it felt like whenever the Heat went to it they scored with ease.
Maybe it was Joe not wanting to show too many things on tape, but I tend to lean more towards it being poor defensive execution. The Celts on the season rank in the 89th percentile in guarding the roll man in P&R, so we know they can do it, it just felt like things were a little too easy for the Heat when it came to the P&R.
- If you were wondering if I am very upset after watching Caleb Martin throw up a 2-12 (2-8) in this game, the answer is yes. That fake ECF bullshit is being proven to be more and more fugazi as time goes by and it triggers the shit out of me. I mean seriously, what the hell. Some of the fakest shit you'll ever see in the history of the NBA. Guy was shooting like 78% on contested 3PA over a 7 game series. What a joke.
- Didn't really love allowing 64 points on 54/43% splits in the first half. The Celts benefitted from extremely hot shooting, but that's not always going to be the case. You can't let good shooting allow you to let go of the rope defensively, and there weren't too many stops in the first 24 minutes.
I'd much prefer the Celts to live in the space they played in during the second half, allowing just 46 points on 34/34% splits.
- Look, the Celts won by 33, there was only 1 lead change and the largest Heat lead was 2 points. There weren't a whole lot of things to put in this section after an ass kicking like this. So what fits? How about the first goddamn play of the game?
I mean on some level you do have to laugh a little bit. The very first play and we immediately get the Celts with a broken brain basketball play. Of course it comes against MIA, nobody has the ability to make this team lose their brains than the Heat, and I'll admit when this happened I was bracing for another disaster. You couldn't script it any better.
The Celts now return home for a 7 game homestand, a place where they are 20-1 on the season. You'd probably be safe to assume Porzingis misses a huge chunk if not all of it just so the team can be safe, and with a slate of LAC/NO/IND/LAL up next it's not as if things get any easier in the immediate future. Come out of this homestand 5-2 or 6-1 and you have all the momentum in the world for the Feb 11th return to MIA. If the Celts play like they did last night, I think that's easily on the table.