The Miami HEAT host the Boston Celtics Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Celtics 112-108 in their last meeting on March 26. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What was your main takeaway from the loss to San Antonio?
Couper Moorhead: It’s early. Offensively the HEAT had some very nice stretches despite San Antonio crowding the middle of the floor as usual, including a late run that saw James Johnson bully his way to the rim over and over. But it was the defensive side of the ball that dominated the team’s conversation afterwards, with a number of players remarking how different the Spurs were from all their previous high-speed opponents. Without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker the Spurs ran a lot of high-low post offense through LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, a look this particular group of players had yet to face together. There are details to clean up – Miami had a number of good offensive possessions get beat by a small mistake later in the shot clock – but there’s something to be said for how much of a change of pace the Spurs were.
Do note that despite the HEAT playing faster than they ever have under Erik Spoelstra (pace of 101.58 compared to an average of 93.76 the previous nine seasons), the team’s transition defense actually ranks in the Top 5. There’s some blurred lines when it comes to statistical databases separating transition and half-court possessions, but so far the team has adapted fairly well to the greater pace across the league.
Joe Beguiristain: Although the HEAT gave it all they had, the Spurs proved to be too much in the end. To nobody’s surprise, San Antonio operated like a machine on both ends of the floor and kept its mistakes to a minimum. What’s more, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol hit some well-defended looks throughout the contest, as the duo combined to shoot 11-of-15 on contested shots. That’s wild.
After practice on Friday, Kelly Olynyk talked about the Spurs’ post-up game and how that challenge can help Miami improve.
“[The defense] is steadily getting better,” Olynyk said. “San Antonio did some stuff that we really hadn’t seen before…we hadn’t seen a real post-up game like that and their execution is just phenomenal. That’s something that will help us and get us better and we’ll grow and improve.”
Despite the loss, there were still some bright spots from Wednesday night. Goran Dragić had yet another masterful performance, Bam Adebayo looked solid in his first-career start and James Johnson caught fire in the fourth quarter (14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the period).
Regardless of what’s going on, you know the HEAT are going to lay it all on the line.
2: How will the Celtics test Miami’s defense Saturday night?
Couper: For a team that picked up the top seed in the Eastern Conference last season, the Celtics made a ton of changes to their roster during the offseason. First, they traded down from the top pick in the draft to take Jayson Tatum, then in preparation for signing Gordon Hayward (out indefinitely with a broken ankle) they traded Avery Bradley to the Pistons for Marcus Morris and released Kelly Olynyk. That would have been a busy offseason in itself, but then they later traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and a future draft pick to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. So now, a season later, they are starting Irving, sophomore Jaylen Brown, rookie Tatum and Al Horford alongside a rotating cast filling in for Hayward.
And yet, with all those changes, this is still a Brad Stevens-coached team. They’ll go small, they’ll spread the floor, they’ll move the ball and now when things break down, they have Irving to create a shot. It’s a different, quicker look than what the Spurs offered on Wednesday but the threat is the same – if you are a step slow on a rotation or overcommit on help then the Celtics have the passers to take advantage. In other words it all comes back to the attention to detail. That said, without Hassan Whiteside again the HEAT will be playing, lineups wise, a more similar look to Boston than the usual convergence of styles we usually get to see play out.
Joe: While a lot has changed with the Celtics personnel wise, they still have a similar playing style under Brad Stevens. As such, Boston is ranked in the top ten in assist percentage at 61.1 percent. Even with a dynamic scorer in Kyrie Irving, the team is still committed to finding the best possible shot. Sometimes it is Irving weaving his way through traffic or Al Horford spotting up from deep. In fact, Horford leads the Celtics in three-point shooting at 45.0 percent (minimum of seven attempts).
Second-year player Jaylen Brown has also elevated his game in the absence of Gordon Hayward. Although he struggled a bit with his shot against the Bucks on Thursday, Brown still played during crunch time and tallied a plus-five rating in the contest. Simply put, the 21-year-old can do multiple things to impact winning, whether it’s playing with energy on the defensive end, attacking the basket or hitting catch-and-shoot treys.
So far this season, Brown is averaging 16.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game.
3: What matchups are you most interesting in seeing?
Couper: Even though Aron Baynes may not play and Daniel Theis could start as he did on Thursday, I’m looking forward to the possessions where we get to see James Johnson defend Tatum. Boston’s rookie has had a more than solid start to the season, averaging 14 points a game on 61.5 percent true-shooting, but it will be fun to see how he adjusts to the strength and size of Johnson. The same goes for whomever Semi Ojeleye defends given that Ojeleye gave Giannis Antetokounmpo some trouble the other night simply by being an immovable object in the post.
And of course whoever draws the Irving assignment will have their hands full all night, but that’s more likely to be a team effort than the duty of any one player.
Joe: I’m interested in seeing how Josh Richardson matches up with Brown. Even though Richardson cooled down a bit against the Spurs, we all know what the 24-year-old is capable of both offensively and defensively. Richardson and Brown have similar builds and are very athletic wings, so it should be a really fun matchup on Saturday.
I’m also excited to see how Miami’s slew of bigs handle Horford. While Adebayo and Jordan Mickey certainly have the quickness to hang with Horford, Mickey has the added advantage of seeing the former Florida Gator in practice last season (Olynyk does too for that matter). We’ll see how it all shakes out.
March 26 – HEAT at Celtics
Dec. 30 – HEAT at Celtics
- The HEAT are 2-2 on the season, while the Celtics enter the contest at 3-2.
- James Johnson leads Miami with 6.3 assists per game.
- Kyrie Irving leads Boston in points (20.8), assists (6.2) and steals (2.2) per contest.
- Hassan Whiteside (left knee contusion) and Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) are out for the HEAT.
- Marcus Morris (sore left knee) and Gordon Hayward (left ankle fracture) are out for the Celtics.
- HEAT Offense: 104.3 (15)
- HEAT Defense: 107.7 (24)
- Celtics Offense: 100.8 (19)
- Celtics Defense: 95.9 (2)