The Celtics got hot early and never looked back.
What did Marcus Smart change in a 127-102 blowout in Game 2 between the Celtics and Heat?
On the one hand, Defensive Player of the Year makes a (surprise) defense much better. Smart – who returned after missing the opener with a midfoot sprain – made the changes more palatable. He forced turnovers. He wasted a Heat offense that slashed through the Celtics like a sharp knife through a tender steak in the second half on Tuesday. He helped keep Heat star Jimmy Butler in check.
Smart also played defense with his offense — the Celtics’ leading ball handler committed just one turnover, which kept the Heat from going out in transition. He also dished out 12 assists and scored 24 points (8 for 22, 5 for 12 from 3-point range).
Smart has long dreamed of having the opportunity to be the Celtics’ starting point guard, which is his favorite role on the field. In that role, he’s thrived this season — the Celtics are just under six points per 100 possessions better with Smart on the ground, which is comfortably his career high.
“That’s what I was drafted here for,” Smart said. “I just waited my turn. I’m lucky to be in the position where I am to have the opportunity to come out and show what I can do, and I think everyone in the organization – in the world – sees what I can do in this leadership position.
The Celtics were better with Al Horford back in the game too, unquestionably (more on his weird situation in a minute). Horford makes the Celtics a great switchable unit that can overpower opponents while sticking 3 points after 3 points in their eyes.
But on Thursday, Marcus Smart’s impact on a basketball game was highlighted. The Celtics still have a long way to go against a smart, well-drilled opponent who knows how to win – an opponent who could get their star point guard back at some point – but Thursday was a reminder that the team that folded so easily Tuesday was understaffed and exhausted.
With some rest and some continuity, the Celtics looked like themselves again.
2. After a slow start, the Celtics hit the Heat with a 3-point barrage that sparked a 21-point first-quarter turnover. The Heat took a 10-point lead, but the Celtics reversed that and claimed an 11-point advantage after one quarter going 9 for 11 from behind the arc in the period. They finished the game with a sizzling 20-for-40 from 3-point range.
Expect the Heat to find ways to better cover the Celtics in depth, but if they don’t, this streak won’t be particularly long.
3. Another big tweak: The Celtics stopped playing so deep in pick-and-roll coverage against Tyler Herro, who’s too good at pull-up jumpers and floaters to allow the big guys to sag too much far. Not even Robert Williams can cover the ground required to slow Herro down in those looks. After several easy buckets by Herro early in the game, the Celtics played significantly higher in the second half and were much better.
“We didn’t want them to be this far,” Udoka noted before the game, which was presumably also true in the first quarter.
Herro finished with 11 points on 5-for-11 shooting.
4. We can’t get enough of Jaylen Brown’s performance, but he hit a few big punches. In the first quarter, he started the Celtics’ score with a three, then crossed Max Strus in a smooth jumper that snapped a Heat run that had pushed the lead to 10. He then canned two more triples before the end of the quarter, the whose second was very deep and pushed the Celtics lead to 11. This stretch was critical – Jayson Tatum sat out for much of the first quarter after picking up his second foul.
At the time of his return, the Celtics were fine-tuning a double-digit lead.
“JB can do anything,” Tatum said. “So when he has the ball more often than not, big things are going to happen. He was just really decisive, getting to his places and just making the right play, obviously getting a lot of attention there.
5. After the game, Horford said he “felt a little bad”, which led to his test.
“On Tuesday we heard the news, then we were tested again and again and were able to be cleared,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot of emotions, and through it all, I just tried to stay locked in, do my part as best I could. I’m glad I got to be there with the guys this evening.
That seems like the best public explanation we’re going to get for Horford’s brief absence, and you could be forgiven for not knowing a bit about what just happened yet. Steve Bulpett reported for Heavy.com that Horford was considered a close contact after talking to someone who later tested positive after a game, but we don’t know if Horford tested positive (it seems like he should have been) and if he did, why he suddenly tested negative the required number of times on Thursday.
The Celtics have stuck to their policy of not talking about players who follow health and safety protocols.
“We don’t go into details with our guys like always,” Udoka said. “But he passed the number of tests he needed and still felt good.”
6. Congratulations to Derrick White and his wife, who welcomed their son on Thursday. Hendrix James White became the Celtics’ second baby Hendrix (Rob Williams’ son is also named Hendrix).
White was spotted returning to Boston ahead of Game 2.
7. Thursday’s loss was Miami’s first home loss in the playoffs. The Celtics stole home-court advantage from the top-seeded Heat and now have a chance to take a 2-1 lead at Boston on Saturday.
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