Celtics vs. Heat: How Boston Returned to Its Worst Habits in the Nightmare’s Third Quarter Losing Game 1

Within the Boston Celtics, a legitimate championship contender, lives a clunky, messy, downright bewildering team. When the Struggle Celtics come out, they drive into traffic, force bad shots, throw the ball, bite on fake pumps, make stupid mistakes and make the game way more complicated than it needs to be.

That version of the Celtics was seen far too often during their 18-21 start, which saw their offense finish 22nd in the NBA. Since then, however, and especially after the front office took over Derrick White on the trade deadline, the Struggle Celtics have only appeared sporadically. Boston has been elite on both sides for more than four months and the team is in the Eastern Conference finals because it seems to have broken most of its bad habits.

To borrow a term from his former San Antonio boss, Celtics coach Ime Udoka always seems to have the right fear of the appearance of the Struggle Celtics. Leading up to Game 1 against the Miami Heat on Tuesday, he spoke to the team about how the previous round started — after a sweep by the Brooklyn Nets, they didn’t respond well to the pressure defenses of the relatively large and tough Milwaukee Bucks, who took the lead. opener lost in a sea of ​​turnovers and ill-advised shots.

Boston started this round much more encouragingly. At halftime, it led 62-54, with 126.5 points per 100 possession and 42 points in the paint despite the absence of Al Horford, who is in the league’s health and safety protocols, and Marcus Smart, who suffered a midfoot sprain. in Game 7 against Milwaukee. Jayson Tatum hit just about every shot he fired, Robert Williams III finished everything around the rim, and Miami’s shooters didn’t break loose. It was much more like the Nets series than the Bucks series.

Before the third quarter started, however, Udoka anticipated how the Heat would react. “We talked about it at halftime: they’re going to increase physicality,” Udoka said. That’s exactly what happened and Boston handled it as badly as possible. Miami started the second half with a 22-2 run, beating the Celtics 39-14 in the third quarter en route to a 118-107 win.

Those 12 minutes were far worse than any part of the first game against Milwaukee, worse than the disappointing Game 3, even worse than the fourth quarter collapse in Game 5. Tatum turned the ball six times in the quarter, Brown twice, and the team missed 13 of its 15 shots. On the other hand, Jimmy Butler scored 17 points, single-handedly beating Boston.

“It turned very quickly,” said Udoka, after losing 118-107. “We just lost our composure. We won three more quarters, but of course it will stand out. We bounced back half way in the fourth and started to play well again and match them physically, but… that’s hard to overcome.”

Udoka called time-out as soon as the Heat took the lead. Smart and Grant Williams urged the team to regroup, so as not to get frustrated and not to let the run snowball. Anyway, it snowed. The Celtics “came back for a quarter,” Udoka said, “and it cost us.”

“I think we strayed a bit from what worked in the first half,” Tatum said.

In a 33-second period in the middle of the quarter, Tatum committed three consecutive live ball turns, all leading directly to Heat buckets in transition.

“During the play-offs, we responded very well to runs after calling a timeout, that sort of thing,” Tatum said. “But for whatever reason we didn’t do that today. And I’ll be the first to say I take the blame for that. I have to lead better, I have to play better, especially in those moments. And I watch just ahead to react the next game.”

On several occasions, Butler got Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith in the air with a fake shot, after which he committed a shooting error. Butler finished with 41 points, 17 of which were on the free-throw line. In the third quarter, he shot 9 to 10 from the line.

Brown described Boston as “out of its kind” in the third quarter and said the Celtics let the game slip, adding that they need to be “more balanced” and “more disciplined” when things don’t go their way.

“We were watching for a bit,” Brown said. “And that’s not what we do. We have to get in it, get into the mix, be more physical, match their physicality, match their intensity. And we didn’t.”

Udoka complained that the Celtics were looking for bad calls, “muscled the post” and gave the Heat chances for second chance points. Mostly, though, he brought up the same things he’d mentioned after losing to the Bucks: getting speeded up, not being able to do simple readings, taking too long to get rid of the ball when help comes.

“What we always preach is that you don’t play in a crowd,” he said. “You draw two or three [defenders], find your outlets. And we did that extremely well in the first half, finding guys for kickout 3s and dump-offs at the basket.”

These are “easy cleanups,” he said. Although Horford and Smart are veterans, Udoka said their absence did not excuse the mistakes. Nor did he use fatigue as an excuse. The message was essentially that Boston collectively had temporarily lost its mind. If so, then in Game 2 on Thursday, it just needs to stay healthy.

Based on how Boston played most of Monday’s game and most of the season, Udoka is right to frame it this way. However, the deeper it gets into the playoffs, the less it can afford these periods, especially if they last a full quarter. The Celtics have repeatedly shown that they can carry out their attack against first-class defenses that load their stars. But that’s no guarantee they’ll keep doing it. As long as they compete for the title, they are also busy with themselves. If they’ve really grown out of their worst inclinations, they’ll prove it.

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