1. The Boston Celtics were down three starters and their sixth man at the Miami Heat on Tuesday night. No Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Marcus Smart or Malcolm Brogdon. The remaining 11 players were on a back-to-back. This one had the makings of a loss, and possibly a blowout loss, written all over it.
In many ways, a blowout loss might have been preferable. Then, it wouldn’t have stung so much.
The shorthanded Celtics battled valiantly and were in position to win in the fourth quarter. With 8:47 to play, Boston took an 87-77 lead when Rob Williams finished off a highlight lob from Derrick White.
The Celtics next score came when Jayson Tatum hit an and-1 floater with 2:19 to play.
For 6:28 of game time, Boston went scoreless, while Miami went on a 15-0 run. 0-for-10 shooting over that stretch with one turnover mixed in.
The process was good. The Celtics generated good looks; they just didn’t fall. Three-pointers, midrange jumpers, shots in the paint. Nothing would fall.
Yet, they still had a chance at the very end.
2. This space, along with lots and lots of louder spaces, have criticized Joe Mazzulla’s timeout usage this season. Or, better put, lack of timeout usage.
This wasn’t that…until it was.
Mazzulla used a couple of timeouts in this game to try and quell Miami runs. It’s fair to suggest that in the middle of the fourth quarter mess, he should have called one earlier, but that’s getting a little nitpicky.
What isn’t nitpicky is the end of the game. Here’s what happened:
Let’s break it down some.
Bam Adebayo hit a jumper with 20.4 seconds remaining to give Miami a 97-95 lead. Mazzulla, as many coaches do, elected to go no-timeout. He said postgame that he didn’t want to give Miami the chance to sub and get matched up. It’s also a strategy that many coaches prefer, as it gives their team a chance to go against a non-set defense.
That’s all well and good, right up until the point where it’s clear Miami is sending two defenders at Jayson Tatum and things have bogged down. At about the six-second mark, this play has gotten messy. Boston is sitting on two timeouts. They could, and should, have called one to reset and run something. The Celtics have done very well on ATO’s all season long, this was a spot for one.
Now, we aren’t going to put all the blame on Joe Mazzulla here. There are five other guys who can call timeout. When things bogged down, any one of the five players on the floor could have called a timeout, including Tatum, who has the ball.
As for Tatum himself…what in the world was that pass? From the youth league and onward, you are coached to never throw a crosscourt pass when you are doubled. White was one pass away and open. Or, as noted above, simply call a timeout.
This final full possession was a mess. It’s not on a single member of the Celtics. Mazzulla and Tatum deserve the lion’s share of the blame, but the other four guys on the floor could, and should, have seen what was happening too.
3. That turnover was the last of 17 Boston giveaways. That led directly to 17 Miami points off turnovers. A 17-6 margin in points off turnovers in a three-point game is a killer.
At this point, it’s probably just best to assume that the Celtics and Heat will play tight games against each other. If they meet again this season, it will be in the playoffs. By that point, Boston better have figured out how to keep from continuing to throw the ball away against Miami.
4. Rebounding was an issue early in the loss to the Orlando Magic, but the Celtics eventually figured that out. They never got there against Miami. And the disappointing part of this one was the Heat played three- or four-guard lineups around one big almost the entire game.
14 offensive rebounds for 16 second-chance points for Miami on the night. Another killer.
In a game where the Celtics defense was excellent, especially considering the absences they had, they lost because they gave the Heat too many second chances and too many points off turnovers.
5. The rest of the Takeaways are going to be scattered thoughts. Some related to this game, but some general concepts. Let’s start with the Sam Hauser Issue.
Hauser has generally held up ok on defense. He was very good in this game, in particular. That would have you think he’s sort of a 3&D (with a kinda, maybe, sorta on the “D” part) player.
Only, it’s the “3” part that is completely missing right now. The Celtics needed Hauser to give them something in this one. He went 0-for-6 from the floor, including 0-for-5 from three.
In the first 22 games of the season, in October and November, Hauser shot a blistering 47.9% from behind the arc on 4.4 three-point attempts per game.
In his last 25 games, through Tuesday against Miami, Hauser is at 28.6% from deep on 3.4 long balls per game.
Holding up on defense is fine, when you’re delivering deadeye shooting from the outside. But the shooting part of the equation isn’t happening, and it hasn’t been happening for almost two full months. When the roster is stocked, it’s time for Hauser to sit for a while. Not just a couple of games, like he did last week, but for a couple of weeks. It just isn’t there for him right now.
6. Related to the Sam Hauser Issue: The Celtics need another wing. Badly.
A lot of folks clamor that Boston needs another big one. But they’ve generally been fine up front. Luke Kornet as a fourth-big has been good. Come playoff time, that will likely shrink to a three-big rotation of Rob Williams, Al Horford and Grant Williams. Now, if you are worried about Rob and Horford holding up, that’s not something we can really argue with. But if they do hold up, things are fine in the frontcourt.
But the wing rotation is Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and…some guards playing up a position? The hope was Danilo Gallinari would fill somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes on the wing, while playing the rest of his time in a big spot. He got hurt, but Hauser’s early emergence seemed to have that papered over.
Now, the Celtics are stuck with having to play Tatum and Brown close to 40 minutes per night and hoping things stay afloat when one of them sits.
Brad Stevens doesn’t have a ton to work with trade-wise. It’s basically the $5.9 million traded player exception or cobbling together some salaries (Gallinari? Pritchard? Someone else?) But if he can find a wing that can give Boston even 15 minutes per game the rest of the way in the regular season, it would be huge. Being whole and as fresh as possible going into the playoffs is imperative.
7. This isn’t an excuse (or maybe it is. Whatever.), but the Celtics seem a little road weary. To date, Boston is tied for second with the road-heaviest schedule so far this season. Seven of the next eight games are in TD Garden, where the Celtics have one of the best home records in the league. Even with some tough opponents in that mix, that should be a huge lift.
8. Let’s close with a couple of bright spots from this one. Derrick White had a really good game. He did his thing on defense, with another block at the rim. He was consistently on the attack. White also did a good job of setting up others.
Do you want Derrick White as your second option when games get tight late? No. But if he’s the third- to fifth-best guy on the floor, you’re doing ok. He’s filled his role better than expected for Boston.
9. Rob Williams looks great. When Jaylen Brown fell into his knee in Toronto, and Williams subsequently missed the Orlando game, it was fair to be a little worried. But clearly, Williams is unlikely to play both ends of a back-to-back this season. The good news? There are only three back-to-back sets left this season. Williams and Al Horford will probably split those, with Horford playing Game 1 and Williams playing Game 2. It’s worked thus far, and there’s no reason to go away from it now, especially considering there are no back-to-backs in the playoffs.
10. This one stung. No doubt about that. Had the shorthanded Celtics bounced back to win, we’d all be on cloud nine. But, alas, this isn’t a Disney movie and not everything has a happy ending.
But it’s important to step back and look at the bigger picture. None of the injuries Boston is dealing with right now project to be long-term things. That’s good. The schedule is quickly turning home-heavy. That’s also good. There’s a three-day break between games coming next week. Again: Good. Especially for a banged-up team. The trade deadline could offer something in the form of reinforcements. If it doesn’t, the buyout market surely will. That’s potentially really good.
Things have tightened up in the standings some. Denver is only a half-game behind Boston for the NBA’s best record. Philadelphia is only two games back in the loss column.
But we saw the Celtics bounce back after a December swoon. And they did it in a big way. This one looks more like a blip than the start of a downturn. It’s up to the guys in green to make sure it’s just a blip. They’ve earned our belief that they will.