The Miami HEAT host the Boston Celtics Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM, and television coverage is on TNT. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What did you find most interesting about Miami’s loss to the Denver Nuggets?
Couper Moorhead: It was sort of an odd game, which is fitting because Nikola Jokić was playing so well and he has an odd, and great, game himself. What I’ll remember most from it is Dion Waiters playing over 20 minutes for the first time this season, playing most of those minutes with Dwyane Wade, and those two getting the opportunity to try and close the game out. We don’t know yet if it’s a pairing we’ll see with much consistency going forward but they played off each other well enough, with Waiters waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities when Wade had the ball and Waiters getting past his defender regularly. That last point was probably the most encouraging, as Waiters has always had a great first step but you never know how a player is going to look after such a long layoff. For that part of his athleticism to still be there, this early into his return, is as encouraging as anything.
Joe Beguiristain: It was yet another topsy-turvy matchup between the two squads, as the game featured 20 lead changes and crazy moments from start to finish. But above all else, the most interesting thing to me was Dion Waiters changing the complexion of the game in the second quarter. Throughout the period, the 27-year-old routinely got a step on his man and made plays for himself and others. In fact, he scored four points on 2-of-2 shooting, dished out three assists and had no turnovers on his seven drives against Denver. And thanks to some perimeter scoring later on, Waiters ended up leading the team with 15 points on the night. Remember, this was just his second game since Dec. 22, 2017.
That said, we can’t forget about Bam Adebayo’s sharp performance in the fourth quarter. Not only did the 21-year-old defend Nikola Jokić pretty well (the Serbian made 7-of-12 contested shots on Tuesday, which is pretty nuts), but he also used his speed advantage to score 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the fourth.
2: How has Boston changed this year and how is their season going?
Couper: For the first time in a long time, Boston didn’t make any significant changes during the offseason. Their roster additions instead were simply by way of important players getting healthy, namely Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Irving has been with the team for a couple years now and played most of last year despite missing the playoffs, but Hayward was injured in the first game of the regular season so they’ve essentially had to restart the integration process with him, while he’s still getting back to himself health-wise, a year after both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown had such good performances at similar positions. In other words, growing pains were expected and growing pains were endured.
The trend for Boston, however, has been mostly positive. Their defense was still elite throughout the early parts of the season when the offense was taking a little time to click, and since December 1 the Celtics have the best offense in the league (over a stretch in which they’ve gone 13-5) with both Hayward and Brown now spearheading the bench unit. Now, for the season, they’re a Top 10 offense and a Top 5 defense, which effectively means the talented Boston team everyone expected coming into last season might finally be here, even if that means record-wise they’re only No. 5 in the East.
Joe: The main change for the Celtics is that Gordon Hayward is healthy. Last year, Hayward suffered a broken tibia and dislocated ankle in the season opener to end things before they could even start. And after an arduous recovery process and a slow start to this season, it seems as though he’s getting back to form.
Over the past four contests, Hayward is leading Boston with 19.3 points, 5.3 boards and 4.8 assists per game on 58 percent shooting from the field. Throughout the flurry, the 28-year-old has moved well without the ball, utilized screens to his advantage and methodically picked his spots. But perhaps most impressively, he’s shooting 78.6 percent (11-of-14) from the restricted area during that span.
And as Coup mentioned above, everything is coming together for the Celtics on both ends of the floor. After Wednesday night’s 135-108 shellacking of the Pacers, Boston now owns the second-best net rating in the league at 6.8.
3: Where will the Celtics challenge Miami the most?
Couper: On the three-point line. Boston is elite at limiting the number of shots that fall from three, which is typically something that is tough to sustain — as we discussed with Denver — but Boston might be the exception to the rule. They are routinely, year in and year out, a Top 5 team in opposing three-point percentage, and they do it with precise and regular closeouts. They do pack the paint like Milwaukee, or the HEAT of late, and so they allow a high-volume of threes, but whereas the Bucks struggle with the overall number of threes allowed, the Celtics depress the damage with their activity. You still have to make them to beat them, typically, but they know it. For a team like Miami that relies heavily on generating open threes, this makes for a fascinating matchup.
And on the other end, the Celtics are just as jumper-heavy as a team like the Warriors. Their efficiency isn’t quite as elite as the defending champs, but its close enough to support their overall offensive profile despite the lack of shots at the rim. So, again, for a team like Miami that has prioritized paint defense to great effect against teams like Milwaukee, Thursday night promised to be an interesting meeting of styles and schemes.
Joe: Although the Celtics have so many guys who can beat you offensively in Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris and now the new-and-improved Marcus Smart, their defense is what causes nightmares for the opposition.
In addition to closing-out well on the three-point line like Coup mentioned above, Boston also allows the third-fewest attempts in the restricted area. Strong perimeter defenders that don’t get beat often and solid rim protectors in Al Horford and Aron Baynes play a big role in that.
Not to mention, the Celtics score 19.3 points per game off turnovers, so the HEAT will definitely need to be wary of that come Thursday night.
- The HEAT won two of three against the Celtics last year.
- Miami is 19-20 on the year, while Boston enters the contest at 25-15 thanks to winning four straight.
- The HEAT’s bench is averaging 43.1 points per contest.
- Kyrie Irving leads the Celtics in points (22.6) and assists (6.5) per game.
- HEAT Offense: 106.5 (22)
- HEAT Defense: 105.9 (7)
- Celtics Offense: 110.9 (9)
- Celtics Defense: 104.1 (2)