Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat push Celtics to the edge of elimination
Ben Affleck couldn’t have written a more stomach-turning piece for Bostonians. What seemed impossible before the first encounter became a reality as the eighth-seeded Heat captured a three-game lead over the Celtics.
Is now a bad time to remind everyone that no squad in NBA history has come back from down 0-3 to win a playoff series?
FanDuel, DraftKings and Barstool Sportsbooks opened the series with the Green as overwhelming favorites to win the conference. Even for Game 3, the experts had decided Boston should win despite the craterlike deficit while going behind enemy lines.
Then ESPN’s so-called “Matchup Predictor,” based on company analytics, gave the Heat a 27.3% chance of winning the match. Early and adjusted prognostics on Miami never passed the smell test, but two games in, Jayson Tatum confidently walked into the Kaseya Center, covered in white, like he was heading for Tony Montana’s wedding.
At halftime, the hosts led by 15 points, while Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler were still in single digits on their scorecards. Gabe Vincent burned the allegedly reputable defender Derrick White off the dribble, plus hit deep jumpers in his face. Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson combined for 21 of the Heat’s 25 bench points, while the visiting reserve crew logged 10.
Through 24 minutes, Miami had suppressed Boston to 31% shooting behind the arc with a mix of man-to-man coverage and the 2-3 zone. Ten offensive rebounds provided the Cs with nine additional shots at the goal, but it had converted three fewer attempts than the Heat.
In the third quarter, the hosts emerged beaming into the lane and converting shots at the top of the key. Within a few minutes, the Celtics yielded as Heat’s lead broke 20 points, and White Hot supporters bounced off their seats in elation.
Butler dribbled to the baseline for a jumper over White and isolated Robert Williams III at the elbow, nailing a pull-up. Vincent scored against Al Horford in drop coverage twice, from outside and up close, and splashed a fastbreak trifecta. On pick and roll with Max Strus, Adebayo slammed a ferocious lob over Grant Williams’ head.
Heading into the fourth interval, the Heat was up 30 points. The only starter to see the floor for Miami was Vincent. For the Celtics, it was Smart, indicating the white flag waved early.
At the postgame presser, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla fell on the sword, yet said his group had no mentality in his last breaths.
“I didn’t have them ready to play,” Mazzulla said. “Whatever it was, whether it was the starting lineup, whether it was an adjustment, I have to get them in a better place. That’s on me.”
Mazzulla’s guys lost their poise. The Heat was up 18 points two minutes into the second half when Marcus Smart threw a punch at Caleb Martin while tracking a miss under the rim. Referee Curtis Blair stopped the clock as the officials gathered for a review of a hostile act.
Naturally, the refs were too slow on the draw to call a second technical foul on Smart. They didn’t need a previous infraction to toss him after watching the replay of his loose hands. I suspect Smart wasn’t exiled because he seemed remorseful, and Martin didn’t look to want to whoop his rear.
I wager the Green Goblin would not have walked away from that unscathed had he tried it with someone he didn’t know on the blacktops. Smart lost control. Keeping him in the game was a dangerous decision by the refs.
When Mazzulla was asked about the disconnect between him and his players, he said, “It’s where I have to be better to figure out what this team needs to make sure that they are connected, they are physical, and they are together by the time they step on the floor.”
At least he didn’t give away publicly what caused the rift. If I were Mazzulla, I’d invest in a Ouija board with hopes of communicating with Red Auerbach for sage counsel on Xs & Os and motivating the troops.
In the Heat’s press room, coach Erik Spoelstra credited his team’s pent-up feelings with the inspiration for the statement performance.
“We are getting closer, but we still have to finish this off… You could tell by the morning session how much it means to everybody, but then you have to prove it and do it on the wood.”
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