It's Pretty Clear The Celtics And Heat Have The Best Rivalry In The NBA Because It's Fueled By Real Hate

Megan Briggs. Getty Images.

Looking across the NBA, you don't really see many true rivalries. Not the bullshit manufactured ones by ESPN between teams that maybe played 1 playoff series against one another. I'm talking true hatred between two sides. When it comes to MIA and BOS, there is legit hatred/bad blood/whatever you want to call it. It's something that dates back to the Big 3/LeBron era, and given how many times and how many battles these two teams have had just since the Bubble, I think it's fair to say that Celts/Heat is a legit rivalry. They hate each other with a passion, their games are battles, each side has gone on the road and ripped the hearts out of an entire city, there's always drama etc. 

Yesterday, even with no Jimmy Butler in the lineup, was no different. When the final buzzer sounded, the result wasn't all that different either. With this win, the Celts have now swept the season series against the Heat, including winning twice on MIA's floor. The first came few weeks ago when Jimmy Butler was active and the Heat were at full strength where the Celts won by 30+ and then again last night where for the second time this season we saw the Celts execute well enough down the stretch in clutch against MIA time to seal a win.

Whether they play again this season is TBD, but from a Celts standpoint, I think we all wanted to see the 2023-24 version of this team show us that they've gotten over their mental hurdle when it comes to the Heat. While that answer is only truly answered if they were to face off in another playoff series, all we can do is evaluate things by what has happened, and since falling down 0-3 in the ECF, the Celts have now won 6 of 7 against MIA. I think it's pretty reasonable to suggest that had Jayson Tatum not gotten injured on the very first play of that Game 7, we're looking at 7 wins in a row. They've won close games late, they've won by blowout, they've won healthy, they've won shorthanded, they've won at home and they've won in Miami. 

As a fan, I don't know how anyone wouldn't love this matchup given how much beef there clearly is. Stop telling me teams like the Bucks or the Sixers are the Celtics' rivals. No, they are not. The rivals are the Heat, and that's not changing any time soon. 

With that said, let us begin

The Good

- I would like to start this section by once again going back in time to June 2023. I would like you to listen to Brad Stevens in this clip

You got all that right? Attacking switches by posting, calling out the Heat defense specifically etc, then also having the ability to stretch the floor and shoot quickly? We all aligned here?

OK cool. Now watch this

Ladies and gentleman, the Miami Heat have a Kristaps Porzingis problem and it would appear that they do not have an answer. Even with Coach Spo pulling the strings, they haven't even come close to showing the ability to have any sort of counter for what Brad has done. He saw all the problems the Heat switching defense has given this team over the years and said enough was enough, it's time to get the Heat Killer.

In 3 games against MIA (3-0) KP is putting up 20.3/7.3/1.7 on 57/50/82% splits. Those numbers probably look even better if not for the fact that in the Celts 30 point blowout win on 1/25, KP only played 21 minutes (and had 19 points on 6-9, 2-3). Here's the dilemma that KP now creates. If you switch on him, it's over for you. Sorry, Tyler Herro, or Duncan Robinson, or Jimmy Butler, or Jaquez Jr, or Caleb Martin are simply too small. That's a bucket or a foul every single time. 

OK, no worries, the Heat will just go to their patented zone. That's something that has dominated the Celts in the past, so surely it would work now right? 

Also wrong. KP at the nail kills that defense too I'm afraid. The exact ways Brad Stevens mentioned KP was going to change our lives in that clip is exactly what is happening when these two teams play. It's legit changed everything about this matchup. What exactly is the MIA solve here? Try and crush his testicles on a drive or something in hopes it takes him out? 

Games like this are just more examples of why KP is the most important X factor on this team not named Tatum/Brown. The biggest thorn in the Celtics' side is suddenly powerless whenever he's on the floor, and if you don't think that matters I'm not sure what you're watching. When things bog down and get clunky, just lob it to the 7'3 dude. Defensively, he's everywhere. I think one of the things we all wanted to see when KP joined this team was how he would perform in these high pressure moments against good teams, seeing as how there wasn't a whole lot of that in Washington.

Our answer? It's been better than any of us could have possibly dreamed of.

- In a game like this, on the road against a rival and a hostile crowd, these are the moments where you love to see your best player show up, put the team on his back, and throw up a two way performance that makes it clear the player is not only engaged, but refuses to lose.

That is what we saw from Jayson Tatum 

Was Tatum efficient? Yup. I'll take 11-20 (2-6). 

Was Tatum engaged? Also yes. The easiest way to know if Tatum gives a shit about a game is to look at his rebounding numbers, and seeing as how Tatum led the team in rebounding (10), I'd say he was rather engaged.

Was Tatum unselfish? When he needed to be. This is what makes Tatum so tough to guard. You want to focus so much on stopping his scoring, but you forget that part of why Tatum rules is the fact that he's a more than willing passer, and pretty damn good at it too. His 9 assists also led the team.

Was he locked in defensively? I dunno, how about 2 bocks, including a huge play late, while pretty much owning every one of his individual defensive matchups? I'd say so.

When things got close late, we did not see Tatum force things offensively. He took just 2 shots in the 4th quarter (1-2), but I'd say his impact was felt through his defense, rebounding, and passing. He let Jaylen (3-5) and KP (1-3) handle the scoring for the most part while he did everything else. 

To me, against this team specifically, I see that as growth.

If you are someone who feels like Tatum needs to figure his shit out against MIA, I think we're at the point now where based on what we've seen, that's exactly what has happened

The 1.3 TOs is the number I care about most in that tweet. I know Tatum can score against MIA, they're too small for him too. What I care about is him not having CTE and having careless turnovers with the basketball, and in those 112 minutes, Tatum has just 4 total TOs. In 25 4th quarter minutes, Tatum has just 1 TO. There have been 2 "clutch time" games between these two teams, and in those moments, Jayson Tatum has 0 TOs.

If that's not an improvement, what is? Given what we've lived through? It's exactly the type of development we've been praying for. 

It's shit like this which makes Gabe Vincent having his foot under Tatum on his landing in Game 7 so unfortunate. Tatum has been crushing this matchup ever since falling down 0-3, and that doesn't look like it's changing any time soon either.

- Let's talk about this team in the clutch, since many consider it so important when talking about the ceiling of the Boston Celtics. On the season, the Celtics are now 18-8, which is tied for the most wins in the NBA. Their 8 losses are the fewest of any team with 18 wins (DEN, MIL). Over those 26 games, the Celts own the 4th best clutch time offense, the 6th best defense, and 2nd best net rating.

If you narrow things down to clutch games against MIA, a team that has owned them in these moments in the past, this is how things look

What nobody can do is tell you what will happen in a playoff series at the end of these types of games. Yes, there will be times where the team struggles, just like there will be times where they look great. All we can do is evaluate them based on what they've done so far, and so far their end of game play has been MUCH better. KP has a lot to do with that, Derrick White's clutch gene has a lot to do with that, Tatum taking care of the ball has a lot to do with that, Joe's coaching has a lot to do with that etc.

The point is, you would not be crazy if you had "clutch time situations" as a question heading into the season, and on the whole I think we've seen enough to be rather optimistic once things get to the postseason. That does not mean they will be perfect and never have a bad possession or make a mistake, but we asked them to be better in these moments and that's what the Celts have done.

- Quick question, is this good?

Lost in the dominance of KP and Tatum yesterday was Jrue Holiday, who simply continues to fill his role perfectly. Life has to be pretty easy when all you have to do is just take wide open jumpers, and if those Jrue jumpers are coming from the corners, guess what happens

This is a man who is now shooting 54.6/55.6% with 2.7 3PM over his last 11 games, and is now up to a career best 43.9% from deep on the season. I think we all knew he was a shooting upgrade over Smart, but this? This is better than even our wildest dreams. 

What I continue to love about Holiday's season is how well he's slid into this role. There's no pouting, there's no forcing things offensively when he hasn't had a shot in a while, he just takes what the defense gives, and in games like last night when it came time to make some GIGANTIC 3s late, Holiday delivered. Then you add in everything else Holiday does defensively and I thought he was just as important to this win as anyone. 

A pretty good 5-6 from deep, that also went with 6 assists, 1 block and 1 steal and only 1 TO in his 35 minutes, so I think it's fair to suggest that part of the reason things may feel different this time around against MIA is the fact that the Celts two additions have been incredible in this matchup.

- This may have been Joe's best game of his career when it comes to his timeout management. It was as close to perfect as someone can get. When things looked like trouble was on the horizon, Joe called timeout. When he needed to stop a run because the Celts were playing stupid basketball, he called a timeout. 

Not only that, but this is yet another example where Joe had an answer for everything Coach Spo threw at him. If we're going to be honest, Joe has owned this matchup. People won't want to admit that, but the results don't lie. 

- After the pathetic attempt at defense we watched the last few games, it was nice to see the Celts actually stop a team from scoring. Only 106 points on 41/30% splits, it felt like we all needed a performance like this. Crazy what happens when the Heat don't get that weird voodoo black magic shooting from deep huh? 

Part of this low scoring output has to do with the fact that the Celts (outside of Jaylen) were great at taking care of the ball. Only 9 TOs as a team, it prevented the Heat from getting out and running. Remember how the Celts gave up 38 fastbreak points against Wizards? The Heat only had 8 in this game.

The Bad

- If you were curious how this game got close, it shouldn't surprise you that it was the same shit that usually always bones the Celts and makes games harder than they needed to be.

Offensive rebounds.

When things start to go south, it's not because of 3P volume, even though this is what most casuals cry about. It's a lack of rebounding. The Heat finished with 14 OREB, so another game where the opponent has 10+ OREB, and those extra opportunities turned into 23 2nd chance points. 

In the 4th quarter alone, the Heat had 4 OREB for 6 2nd chance points. 

This shouldn't be surprising, as the Celts have been 30th in the NBA in opponent OREB during this "bad stretch", and for me, it will always be my biggest concern when we start talking about the playoffs. This team CANNOT keep giving up these high volume OREB games and expect it not to bite them in the ass in a playoff game/series. It's how the ATL/PHI/MIA series were all extended. 

Time after time we saw MIA be quicker to the ball, or a Celtic would try and tap the ball instead of grabbing it, and it almost always led to points. That's losing basketball and if you want to talk about bad habits, that is absolutely one of them.

- Very funny that in a game that was physical and on a night where Tatum only took 6 3PA and was aggressive the majority of this game, his only FTA came in the final 14 seconds on an intentional foul.

- It really sucked to see JRich and Terry Rozier go down with injuries. Both looked like freak plays and you never want to see a guy get hurt like that. I was certain Terry blew out his knee on that landing, but it sounds like it was more an ankle. Either way, I hope for a speedy recovery for both. Love those guys.

The Ugly

- I'm not sure where else you thought I'd put Jaylen's 6 TOs, but those were bad. Some came via his handles, some came via bad passes, and some came via brain farts in the 4th quarter. His 3 TOs in the 4th are pretty unacceptable, especially given what we lived through in Game 7.

On the season in this matchup Jaylen's TOs have been under control, but yesterday was a bit of a disaster, and I think it tells us something when it comes to these types of games against MIA.

In this matchup, Jaylen needs to be more of a play finisher than a play creator. When going up against this defense, you need quick and assertive decisions, and it feels like Jaylen takes juuuuuust a little  too long to get things going. Once he holds onto the ball he starts to panic a little bit, the pressure gets into his air space and turnovers happen.

On the other side, when his role is to just score and finish plays, he's great. Jaylen went 8-16 in this game so it's not like he wasn't effective as a scorer, but as an offense initiator, I'd say it didn't look all that great. The beauty is that's fine, there are plenty of capable offense initiators for this matchup, and I think that's what these games are for. Get tape on how things look so you are ready to adjust if needed in a playoff series.

- Let's talk dirty plays. First, there was Bam's on KP

then came Jaylen's

Unlike Heat fans who have no problem with what Bam did and don't consider it dirty, I don't think we need to go that same route as Celtics fans. Both plays were fucked. If someone did that to Jaylen's arm, Celts fans would be bullshit, and if someone crushed Bam's dick and balls like that, Heat fans would be bullshit.

It was clear Jaylen had enough of Duncan Robinson's shit when it came to grabbing and flopping because he knows he has no chance to actually defend anyone on this team, so he did something about it. Was that the right move? I dunno, I see his thought process, but I think it's also fair to say it was a shady play. Things get heated in the moment and shit happens, but I don't think this was a situation where Jaylen did nothing wrong, which is why his flagrant was fine.

The fact that Bam's was not only a no call but a foul on KP is what makes it funny. Just more of the same when it comes to Bam and the Heat. That's someone who has a MUCH larger rap sheet of doing dirty/shady shit, so I don't think it's crazy to say both players were at fault for their actions and both the actions were fucked up.

Look, anything that adds more fuel to the fire in this rivalry is A OK with me. I say embrace it. It's what makes the games fun, because there's real hate behind it. At the end of the day, the Celts left South Beach with another win and continue to roll into the All Star Break. Now up to 4 wins in a row, this team is as locked in as ever, and that's pretty damn fun to watch.