Celtics' Focus is Mostly Internal as They Adjust for Game 3 vs. Heat: 'It's About Us'

Apr 24, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7), forward Jayson Tatum, and guard Derrick White high five during Game 2 vs. the Miami Heat.
Apr 24, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7), forward Jayson Tatum, and guard Derrick White high five during Game 2 vs. the Miami Heat. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

As Jaime Jaquez Jr. put it, on Wednesday night, the Miami Heat "wanted it more" than the Boston Celtics.

The defending Eastern Conference champions, fighting to avoid falling into a 0-2 hole without Jimmy Butler, were the more physical team, had a greater sense of urgency, and stayed a step ahead all night.

Their pace and decisiveness with the ball, which they paired with forceful screens and excellent spacing, had the hosts on their heels at the defensive end of the floor.

Poor closeouts, struggles to navigate screens, and not doing enough to help each other, for instance, standing in the paint rather than running out to an open shooter, added to a dangerous formula. It translated to the Heat making a franchise record 23 threes. That's two shy of the most in an NBA playoff game.

"We just have to be better," said Al Horford a day after the Celtics' 111-101 loss in Game 2 at TD Garden. "We have to be better (at) defending the three-point line. They shot it, shot a lot of them, a lot of frequency. I know we will be better next game. There will be more of an awareness to that. For us, defensively, continuing to do a good job of getting stops and holding them to one shot."

The other end of the parquet wasn't much kinder to Boston in Wednesday's defeat. The hosts often settled, rushed shots against quality closeouts, and they didn't play with enough force to punish switches or set effective enough screens to yield an advantageous opportunity.

The result was faring 12/32 (37.5%) from beyond the arc and committing 13 turnovers, which Miami parlayed into 20 points.

On Thursday at the Auerbach Center, Joe Mazzulla said of that three-point variance, "I think you got to have better closeouts. Take away the ones in transition. I think we gave up 12, four or five open ones, in transition. 

"And then reading their drives. They're still driving the ball, and we got to do a good job of reading the drive, and when it's a non-threatening [drive], work to get out, and when it is threatening, fight for multiple efforts. It's definitely a test to that, and we can definitely be better on that end of the floor."

Apr 24, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Miami Heat forward Caleb Martin (16) shoots for three over Boston Celtics forward Sam Hauser.
Apr 24, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Miami Heat forward Caleb Martin (16) shoots for three over Boston Celtics forward Sam Hauser. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking to the mental side of the equation and not getting discouraged when shots aren't falling, especially as the opposition is drilling one three after another en route to making 53.5% of its 43 three-point attempts, Kristaps Porzingis conveyed, "I think it's always like you have to have the next possession mentality no matter what happens in the game. 

"You play, I don't know, Golden State, Steph Curry, he's going to make some insane shots, you know, just boom, you keep going, or you play whoever, you play Miami, who don't have maybe great shooters, but they're making back-to-back-to-back-threes and like, what do you do? You completely start to -- no, you just stay the same, and at the end, it evens out. It's fun, basketball is fun. We just go out there and enjoy the game, and most of the time, the better team wins."

As Boston prepares for Game 3 on Saturday in South Beach, Al Horford told Inside The Celtics of balancing responding to what Erik Spoelstra and the Heat will have in store for them compared to focusing internally, "I think it’s about us. They're going to do what they're going to do. We just have to be prepared to execute what we do, making sure that we're engaged at a high level defensively, which I expect our group to be. We've been very consistent at that all year, and we have to show it again on Saturday."

As much as Boston struggled in Game 2, the hosts were within six with 3:16 left. If the Celtics aren't dramatically losing from beyond the arc, the team with the most talented top six in the NBA should be in good shape on Saturday and throughout this series.

But it wasn't just about execution on Wednesday. While the top seed in the East was tight, Miami channeled its desire to avoid being halfway to the offseason into playing as if it was operating with house money, letting threes fly with confidence.

It was the approach Kristaps Porzingis said the C's want to have as they entered this series.

On Thursday, regarding the importance of maintaining that mindset of being the hunter, not the hunted, throughout this series, the Latvian native expressed to Inside The Celtics, "I think it's easier for them to play in a way because they are -- the way they were shooting the ball with the freedom that they were shooting the ball the other night; this is their, not gift, but what almost, they all felt super free, and we on the other hand, maybe felt a little bit like we're (the) number one seed against Miami at home. 

"That can maybe get you a little bit. So, we just have to make sure that we still play basketball; it's still basketball, it's still just reads and go and not overthinking stuff, and we'll be fine."

Further Reading

Kristaps Porzingis Details How Heat Disrupted Him in Game 2: 'I'll Make Sure I'm Better'

Heat's Historic Shooting Leaves Celtics Contemplating: 'We Gotta Respond'

Heat Outmuscle and Outshoot Celtics, Sending Series to Miami Tied at 2

Celtics Bench Stars in Its Role in Game 1 Win vs. Heat: 'An Identity of Our Team'

Jayson Tatum Discusses First-Career Playoff Triple-Double: 'A Beautiful Game'

Celtics Protect the Parquet in Dominant Display in Game 1 vs. Heat

Kristaps Porzingis Makes Clear What Celtics' Mindset is Entering Playoffs

How do the Heat Adapt Without Jimmy Butler? Joe Mazzulla Weighs in

Brad Stevens Addresses Potential Extension with Derrick White

Celtics Embracing Challenge to Go Beyond Most Talented

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Bobby Krivitsky


Bobby Krivitsky's experiences include covering the NBA as a credentialed reporter for Basketball Insiders. He's also a national sports talk host for SportsMap Radio, a network airing on 96 radio stations throughout the country. Additionally, he was a major-market host, update anchor, and producer for IMG Audio, and he worked for Bleacher Report as an NFL and NBA columnist.