7 notes and observations from the Celtics’ win over the Heat

Boston, MA - 12/04/2019 - (3rd quarter) A three pointer from Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) added up to a 66-52 lead over the Miami Heat during the third quarter.  The Boston Celtics host the Miami Heat at TD Garden.  -  (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section:  Sports, Reporter:  Adam Himmelsbach, Topic:  05Celtics-Heat, LOID:  9.0.1540265395.
Jaylen Brown added to a 66-52 lead over the Miami Heat during the third quarter. –Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The Celtics stayed undefeated at TD Garden Wednesday night, overcoming an early 11-point deficit to top the Miami Heat, 112-93.

Here’s what we saw:

1. Grant Williams got the start in place of Marcus Smart, who missed Wednesday’s game with an illness. Smart is also battling soreness with his oblique, though coach Brad Stevens noted before the game the injury should not be a long-term issue. Had Smart not been sick, Stevens said he would have been listed as doubtful. 

2. The Celtics suffered from another slow start and were outscored 28-20 in the first quarter. Boston’s average first-quarter margin (-1.1) ranks 22nd in the league and its average first-quarter points (24.8) ranks 29th, only ahead of the New York Knicks. The ends of games, however, tell a much different story, with Boston’s average fourth-quarter margin (+3.6) ranking second and average fourth-quarter points (29.6) ranking fourth. So, what’s up with the slow starts? “I feel like we just try to ease into the game a little bit too much,” said forward Jayson Tatum. “Myself included. We got to come out swinging more.” 

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3. Though G. Williams got the start, forward Semi Ojeleye took over the role for the entirety of the second and third quarters, where the Celtics outscored the Heat by 21. Ojeleye logged 24 straight minutes and finished with an individual plus-minus of plus-21 during that span. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those 24 minutes were our best 24 minutes,” Stevens said. Ojeleye grabbed seven rebounds and also knocked down a clutch three-pointer when the Heat had cut the deficit to five in the third quarter. Defensively, he was consistently in the right spots and brought a needed level of physicality with Smart sidelined. After the game, Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker all mentioned how vocal Ojeleye was on the defensive end. “Semi does a good job of being communicative on defense,” Brown said. “He’s an anchor down there.”

 4. At times, it seemed like Heat star Jimmy Butler could will his team back into the game on his own. The only member of the Heat to score more than 12, Butler tallied 37 points on 67 percent shooting. When Miami was rolling in the first quarter, Butler accounted for 11 of the team’s 28 points, including a forceful put-back dunk.

5. Stevens pointed out how teams tend to blitz Walker, which creates good looks for the rest of the team because Walker is able to get rid of the ball smartly and quickly. “It all works together,” Stevens said. “It’s really hard at that size to make the next right play. It’s really incredible because he can make it over and over.” Walker finished with a team-high seven assists. Tatum, too, noticed he’s been getting blitzed more of late, saying the key to combating that defense is to make the right read. “When they blitz they send two people, so somebody is open,” said Tatum. “It’s not tough. Just gotta find the open guy and swing it to him.” 

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6. Brown has been a beneficiary of the blitz, often the one open to receive the pass. Three of Walker’s seven assists were to Brown, who finished with 31 points on 50 percent shooting, including 5-for-9 from behind the arc. “Hopefully, they continue to blitz and I continue to make plays,” Brown said. “But if they stop, then it’ll open up guys like Kemba and JT.” Walker called Brown the “X-factor” of the team. “When he has it going, it definitely gives us a lot more options. He’s been playing well all year.” Brown was just three points away from setting a new career-high Wednesday and could have hoisted a shot late in the fourth had he really wanted to go for it. Instead, he elected to dish to an open Walker, who drilled a three. 

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7. In the third quarter, Brown hit back-to-back threes from the same spot in the corner in front of Miami’s bench. After the second, he blew a kiss that he says was for former teammate Kelly Olynyk. “That’s my guy,” Brown said. “That’s all love right there. Kelly’s my guy. K-doggy, one of Boston’s finest. Every time I can show him some love, I try to.” So, did Olynyk see the kiss? “I don’t know,” Brown said, smiling. “He felt it, though.”