The Celtics fell to the Heat, 106-101, Thursday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, giving Miami a 2-0 series lead.
Here’s what we saw:
The Celtics blew a double-digit lead for the second consecutive game.
After blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 1, Boston managed to surrender a 17-point lead in Game 2 en route to its second straight loss.
Some of this was due to a surge from the Heat, but the Celtics’ inability to respond to Miami runs has been concerning, to say the least. This team has fought back from deficits all year long, so for Boston to simply fold when those inevitable runs come is a pretty unfortunate result. The offense goes stagnant for stretches, while the ball movement becomes sporadic.
The Celtics lost their ball movement and rebounding in the second half, two factors that certainly contributed to the latest meltdown. Boston had 13 assists in the first half, compared to just six in the final 24 minutes. As for rebounding, the Celtics held a major advantage in the first half, grabbing 27 boards, but that number fell to just 14 in the second half.
What stood out more than anything, however, was the Celtics’ effort, or lack thereof. Miami outworked Boston in every way, shape and form down the stretch, resulting in second-chance points, loose balls and numerous Celtics turnovers.
Miami’s zone is causing problems for Boston.
The Celtics really struggled to get anything going against Miami’s zone defense as this game wore on. Boston was hesitant with the ball, and any penetration they seemed to find in the second quarter vanished at all other points.
“It’s a hard zone to play against,” Stevens said before plainly stating that his team simply needs to be better.
Miami’s movement is rapid but calculated, using quick feet and well-timed rotations to keep Boston on its heels wherever the ball goes. Even when the Celtics seem to move the ball quick enough, the Heat almost always have a fast closeout heading to the perimeter. At first glance, it looks scattered, but it’s methodical as ever.
Boston’s struggle with the zone only amplifies the importance of Gordon Hayward’s impending return. Having another shooter on the perimeter will do wonders for the Celtics’ ability to attack the zone. That extra offensive weapon should result in more penetration options, in addition to the Heat having to extend their coverage on every possession.
The zone was the root of Boston’s offensive struggles for the majority of the awful second-half showing. The Celtics finished the night with 20 turnovers, resulting in 26 Miami points.
Boston’s third quarter was as ugly as it gets.
The Celtics third-quarter woes returned as the Heat blew the doors off them, 37-17, over the 12-minute span. It was Boston’s lowest-scoring quarter of the postseason.
“We pulled apart and we didn’t play well,” Stevens said. “We just shot ourselves in the foot in the third.”
Boston was able to recover in the fourth, but that third quarter put Miami right back into this game. The frame began with the Celtics picking up a slew of fouls, something that hurt them in the fourth quarter of Game 1. Miami was able to get into the paint with ease from that point on and dictated the pace of play for the entire quarter and frustrated the Celtics on the other end, forcing Boston into seven turnovers.
The Celtics’ effort was a major problem here, especially on defense where their activity completely sank, allowing Miami, namely Bam Adebayo, to get everything he wanted inside. Kemba Walker wasn’t happy with the ugly stretch, as you might assume.
“They outplayed us and it was really unacceptable on our behalf,” Walker said after the loss.
Kemba Walker had a much-needed bounce-back effort.
On the bright side, the Celtics finally received a solid outing from Walker, who came out firing early on, knocking down his first two 3-pointers. It was his first game with multiple 3-pointers since Game 3 vs. the Toronto Raptors.
Walker’s second quarter was one of few examples of success the Celtics had against the Miami zone. Walker was able to penetrate the Heat defense off the dribble, getting Boston the necessary paint touches it so desperately needed in Game 1. That helped the Celtics limit their turnovers for a short while heading into halftime.
Kemba handles. Too clean.
Man is going off.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 18, 2020
Walker finished with a team-high 23 points on 9-of-19 shooting, adding seven rebounds and three assists. Even in a loss, this is a huge positive. Boston needs Walker to get going as a major scoring option if it wants to find any success for the remainder of the postseason. To beat that Miami zone, especially without Hayward, you need as many threats as possible.
Enes Kanter made his first appearance of the series.
Brad Stevens turned to Enes Kanter in the first quarter, his first appearance in the series. As many fans voiced their concerns over the pick-and-roll risk he posed defensively, Kanter answered nicely in an eight-minute stint stretching into the second quarter. The center posted nine points on 4-of-4 shooting with six rebounds, which was good for a plus-10 rating.
Kanter struggled a bit when he re-entered in the third quarter, however, albeit brief. Miami immediately forced Kanter to defend in space, which got Bam Adebayo a few easy buckets. The Turkish big man was quickly replaced. If we do see him at all for the remainder of the series, it’ll likely be for short stints.
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