Celtics Right the Wrongs of Game 2 to Take 2-1 Lead Over Heat

Apr 27, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics guard Derrick White (9) brings the ball up the floor against the Miami Heat.
Apr 27, 2024; Miami, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics guard Derrick White (9) brings the ball up the floor against the Miami Heat. / Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

As much as the Celtics' half of the equation in their 111-101 Game 2 loss to the Heat was about their approach, there was also no denying the Heat played with more effort, physicality, and urgency. 

On Saturday, they atoned for that.

Boston's point-of-attack and switch-heavy scheme stifled a Miami offense that never found its rhythm. That translated to the hosts shooting 32.1% from beyond the arc and committing 12 turnovers. The C's parlayed the latter into a 24-4 advantage in points off giveaways.

It's a reflection of how the visitors' defense fueled an offense that needed a significant up-tick in pace compared to Wednesday's defeat. 

The Celtics' up-tempo operation helped them lead wire-to-wire in their 104-84 win at the Kaseya Center despite faring 11/37 (29.7%) from three-point range.

It also helps when you dominate on the margins. Committing half as many turnovers as the Heat and the sizable gap in scoring off those mistakes is a prime example. 

And despite putting a premium on protecting the perimeter, Boston only gave up six second-chance points from the second quarter on, earning a 17-11 advantage in an aspect that was one of Miami's best hopes of overcoming its poor performance from behind the arc.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown matched each other with a game-high 22 points in the victory. The former also grabbed 11 rebounds, the most in the matchup, and dished out six assists, tied atop the leaderboard with Jrue Holiday. The latter paired his scoring with eight rebounds and three assists.

Saturday's win also featured a necessary bounceback from Kristaps Porzingis. Working to prove his poor performance on Wednesday was a blip on the radar; he was more physical, had an elevated impact on defense, and put 18 points on the board on 5/9 shooting.

It was also Derrick White's best game of the series. The former Colorado Buffalo registered 16 points on 7/14 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in the victory. As detailed below, that includes a second-quarter flurry that helped Boston break the game open.

Now for a deep dive into what stood out as the Celtics delivered a haymaker to take a 2-1 series lead.

1. After the Heat made a franchise record 23 threes in their Game 2 win, finishing two shy of tying the Cavaliers' record of 16 makes from beyond the arc in a playoff game, set in 2016, protecting the perimeter was a primary point of emphasis for the Celtics entering Game 3.

Far better closeouts helped Boston limit Miami to 1/9 from three-point range. If the former isn't dramatically losing the battle from behind the arc -- as it did on Wednesday when it went 12/32 -- it will prove quite difficult for the defending Eastern Conference champions to overcome Jimmy Butler's absence vs. the team with the most talented top six.

2. However, that approach does have consequences. The hosts, now having an easier time getting behind the defense, parlayed three offensive rebounds into a 5-2 edge in second-chance scoring.

Again, it's a trade-off that should prove worth making for the Celtics, provided they aren't dramatically losing the possession battle because of it.

3. Helping minimize the impact of those offensive rebounds were the Heat's struggles taking care of the ball. Five turnovers led to a 10-2 edge in points off giveaways in the first frame.

4. Vowing to redeem himself for his Game 2 struggles, Kristaps Porzingis was more physical from the start on Saturday. Perhaps that helped him find his rhythm after a 1/9 shooting performance on Wednesday.

The seven-foot-three center entered halftime with 12 points, faring 4/5 from the field, hustled to retrieve a loose ball after a missed three by Derrick White, netting himself an open layup, and grabbed four rebounds in the first 24 minutes of Game 3.

5. Speaking of White, just by hustling and shooting without hesitation, the former Colorado Buffalo generated 12 of the Celtics' 16 points in a late-second-quarter stretch that helped extend Boston's advantage to 61-36. 

That included two put-backs and a pair of threes from the seventh-year guard, who entered halftime with 12 points and four rebounds, including three at the offensive end.

6. The visitors also got meaningful contributions from their bench in the first two periods.

Payton Pritchard was excellent in the first half, attacking off the dribble to blow by Celtics' fan favorite Caleb Martin for a layup, coming up with a missed three by Sam Hauser in traffic, then finishing off the glass, and doing a terrific job of fighting over screens to contest Miami's shooters and disrupt their attempts.

The former Oregon Duck had seven points at intermission.

Sam Hauser, who relocated to make himself available for an Al Horford outlet pass out of the post before burying a three, and getting a layup off a cut from the corner, chipped in five points, helping Boston's second unit outscore the hosts' 14-6 by intermission.

7. Those contributions aided a first-half blowout, as the Celtics took a 63-39 lead into the third quarter.

They also produced a 26-12 advantage in points in the paint and converted eight offensive rebounds into ten second-chance points while limiting the Heat to four of the former and five of the latter. They also parlayed nine Miami turnovers into a 19-2 edge in points off giveaways and only coughed the ball up three times. That matches the most points Boston's scored off turnovers in a first half this season.

And while four Celtics scored in double figures in the first half, including Jayson Tatum, who entered the break with 15 points, leading all scorers, Tyler Herro, who had ten points, was the lone player in double digits for the hosts.

Interestingly enough, Jrue Holiday did not attempt a shot in the first two quarters. His five assists led all participants, though. He also was crucial to impressive point-of-attack and switching defense that limited Miami to 36.1% shooting, including 4/14 (28.6%) from behind the arc.

8. While Miami was most competitive in the third quarter, a period it got outscored 24-22, the Celtics' point-of-attack coverage and a switching that suffocated the Heat's offense translated to faring 2/7 from three-point range.

The hosts, who entered the final frame trailing 87-61, shot below 40% from the field in the first 36 minutes and went 6/21 (28.6%) from beyond the arc.

9. And after careless turnovers and missed layups made the fourth quarter of their decisive Game 1 victory more uncomfortable than it needed to be, the Celtics kept their foot on the gas in Game 3, especially at the defensive end, as they methodically worked the clock and applied the finishing touches on Saturday's 104-84 win to take a 2-1 series lead in this first-round rivalry clash. 

10. Game 4 between the Celtics and Heat is on Monday night. Tip-off time is at 7:30 EST at the Kaseya Center.

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

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.