After a strong fourth quarter performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves Friday night, Brad Stevens rewarded Marcus Smart with his first career start against the Miami Heat.
With Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh both sidelined with injuries, the Celtics appeared to have a good shot at beating an undermanned Heat team and building upon a season-high three-game winning streak.
Miami thwarted those plans on Sunday evening, jumping on the Celtics from the opening tip with a 9-2 run on their way to a nearly wire-to-wire 100-84 victory over the Celtics.
Luol Deng had a game-high 23 points for the hosts, while rookie James Ennis had a career-game off the bench with 16 points and eight rebounds. Tyler Zeller was the only real bright spot in the loss for Boston, posting an efficient 22 points and eight rebounds in just 25 minutes.
Outside of the big effort from Zeller, the Celtics offense was a mess for the majority of the night. The team shot a paltry 39.8 percent from the field and 26 percent from three-point range, never able to significantly cut into Miami’s big early lead over the final three quarters.
In his starting debut, Smart wasn’t the only reason for the team’s offensive struggles, but he certainly showed some growing pains on both ends. He scored just three points in 28 minutes on 1-of-4 shooting (all attempts from 3-point range). The 21-year-old added four rebounds and four assists as well, but Smart’s play was representative of a Celtics offense that failed to attack the basket all night against an undersized Miami team.
The biggest stat that reflected that lack of aggression was fast break points. Coming into the contest, the Celtics averaged 17.1 points a game in that department, but they couldn’t manage single one against Miami. The lack of transition buckets meant the Celtics were forced to play half-court offense for much of the night, and that’s just not an area they excel in.
So who else was to blame besides Smart for the slow offensive evening? Avery Bradley (2-of-10) and Jeff Green (4-of-12) had ugly games overall. Integrating the newest Celtics (Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson) was also a bit of a challenge for Stevens, as he attempted to balance minutes and try a number of new lineup combinations.
Those struggles are likely to continue in the coming weeks as the newcomers attempt to get adjusted to the starting lineup. For now, the biggest question remains whether Smart showed enough in his play Sunday to earn another start, or if Stevens thinks the rookie isn’t quite ready for the full-time gig.