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Recap: Celtics sneak away with a W vs. a grindy Heat squad

The Heat have been owned by the Celtics all season, but since the last time these squads met, Goran Dragic and the South Beach Mafia have gone on quite the tear. They’re still under .500 despite going 24-7 since their wretched 11-30 start, but Erik Spoelstra has undeniable made quality lemonade with his squad’s lemons. Boston underestimated them at first, but recovered from those mistakes in a wire-to-wire contest they were fortunate enough to win.

THE GAME FLOW

Yeah, so that thing I said about not underestimating the Heat: The Celtics began this game with carelessness and poor movement that suggested they were underestimating the Heat. Not good. Miami moved like a well-oiled if ragtag machine for Q1’s first half, and scored with particular ease in the paint to create a small lead. Boston snapped into something close to form after that, and Jae Crowder shouldered the scoring load. Wasn’t enough for the Cs to steal the lead, but a buzzer-beating Marcus Smart three to end the quarter made it a narrow 27-22 gap.

(Tyler Johnson has some truly disgusting teeth. Just wanted to make sure that was noted for posterity.)

Miami had an expected advantage on the boards and used it to take would-be second-chance points away from Boston in the second quarter. That, plus an affinity for getting to the line, kept the Heat ahead despite shooting only slightly better than the Celtics (48 percent to 44 percent, respectively). The Cs’ sloppiness returned: Turnovers, misses and bad luck (a shot-clock violation on Kelly Olynyk, one or two questionable calls) let Miami’s lead balloon as high as 13. Boston had a few moments in which it seemed like momentum was about to build…but it didn’t.

Isaiah Thomas, who’d barely shot during much of the first half, started to wake up with just under 5 minutes of the frame left, getting to the line (a category in which Miami decisively led) and picking off bad passes. But despite fueling a 12-2 run mostly on his own at one point, the Heat stayed ahead of I.T. & Co to end the half, 58-53.

I won’t say the Celtics completely transformed to open the second half, but they appeared much more engaged on defense, kept Miami scoreless for two minutes and finally took a brief lead off an Isaiah three. They’re a markedly better team than the Heat–there’s no denying this, good as Miami has been of late–but only now did they start playing like it. Al Horford, quiet for the first half, started to take control in the defensive paint, and Amir Johnson not only helped out there but also shot perfectly–including several smoothly taken jumpers.

In the last few minutes of Q3, Boston managed to retake the lead and build on it with an I.T. 7-point run. Not enough separation for the Cs to risk coasting–Miami’s shooters, cold during the third and 4 minutes without a made FG, could heat up again–but the game at last resembled what many of us expected it’d be like the whole time as Q3 segued into the fourth.

Not enjoying the embarrassment they endured in the third quarter, the Heat got it somewhat back together. Scoring off the muscle of James Johnson and quick finesse of Tyler Johnson, they made it a two-possession game and even retook the lead at around the six-minute mark. After that, the lead went back and forth like playing hot potato with a goddamn live grenade, the Celtics not definitively getting back ahead until three minutes remained in the game. Fortunately they stayed ahead once there. Not a pretty ending, rife with free throws and staggered play, but a win nonetheless, 112-108, tying Boston for No. 1 in the East with the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

In closing, renowned Celtics Twitter heroine @ibee32 wants me to say how much she loves Al Horford. She is a woman of unquestionably good taste.

A bit disheartening to see the Cs struggle to rebound in the first half and to turn the ball over 13 times total. The lack of intensity plaguing the squad during the same period had me much more frustrated. That said, correcting and bouncing back from lackadaisical stretches of play is a skill in itself, one that the Cs exhibited here.

I feel like I’ve neglected Marcus somewhat in these, so I wanted to include that crazy 3-pointer:

For some of the first half, it seemed like Miami knew how to properly defend I.T., hitting him with double teams and packing the paint. Clearly that wasn’t gonna last long. Observe:

THE GRID

Amir Johnson: 14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. One of his best all-around games as a Celtic. Don’t know how many more of those we’ll get, so I want to properly credit him as a big contributor to this win.

Isaiah Thomas: 30-2-3 on efficient shooting. His free throws in Q2 kept the Cs alive when little else was working, and despite 6 turnovers had an excellent +21 rating.

Jae Crowder: 23 points on 62 percent shooting–plus 6 boards, 2 steals, an assist and a block. People might bitch at his recent outspokenness (stupidly, IMHO), but he was as much a part of tonight’s win as I.T. and Amir and is a major component of this season’s triumphs.

Box score

About Liam Green

copyeditor, rap geek, basketball geek, purveyor of fictionalized crime. boston and new jersey.

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