The Celtics, after coughing up a big first half lead, finally found themselves back up by 10 with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter, seemingly wrapping a successful road trip. But then, as the Heat did so often in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, they erased that lead with relative ease. Two consecutive three’s from Duncan Robinson, the second of which resulted in an and-one opportunity, cut the lead to three very quickly. Goran Dragic missed a three on the Heat’s next possession, only for Bam Adebayo to get the offensive board, and give Dragic another chance he did not miss. Tie game.
The Celtics still had time for one last shot. Marcus Smart got the ball at the top of the key, and found a lane to the paint. He gets up a decent layup that just misses, only for rookie guard Payton Pritchard to find himself in the perfect spot for a putback layup with 0.2 seconds left. The Heat fail to tie it, game over. Celtics 107 Heat 105.
With this result, the Celtics wrap up their four game road trip going 3-1, and this game was pretty much a polar opposite of their last game against the Toronto Raptors. The Celtics started slow, before throttling the Raptors for the rest of the game. In this one, the Celtics started out hot, hitting 5 of their first 6 three point attempts, before suddenly going cold for most of the second quarter. The Celtics built up a 17 point lead midway through the second, but saw it evaporate early in third. However, whereas the Celtics rolled over and died in the previous season’s ECF matchup, they stuck around and kept the game tight until the aforementioned 4th quarter run to give them a 10 point lead. This game showed the Celtics resolve, as they kept fighting, despite blowing two double digit leads, and ultimately came away with the win.
When the game seemed to be slipping away from the Celtics in the third quarter, Jayson Tatum came in to save the day. He scored 10 of his 27 in that frame, and did everything he could to keep the team afloat in that vital period. The Celtics continued to experience their third quarter woes that have plagued them for most of the start of the season. The Heat outscored the Celtics 35-27 in that frame to tie it up heading the fourth quarter, and the Celtics are lucky it did not come back to bite them.
The Celtics once again relied primarily on Tatum and Jaylen Brown (21 Pts) to carry them through this one. Brown had a shockingly inefficient game, taking 23 shots to get just 21 points in this one. Brown’s play has been a primary reason the Celtics have stayed afloat in the midst of Kemba Walker’s absence, but he will have to avoid performances like this in the future if that is to continue. The Celtics also got a nice 13 point contribution from Daniel Theis in this one. The two big lineup seemed to finally find some success at the start of the game, as Theis and Tristan Thompson countered Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk pretty well to start this one.
While rookie revelation Payton Pritchard put home the game winner in this one, he struggled for most of the night, finishing only 3/10 from the field, including missing all 4 of his three point attempts. However, he found himself in the right place at the right time, and gave the Celtics a huge victory. With Jeff Teague missing some time with an ankle injury, the burden of those bench guard minutes has fallen to Pritchard, and he has responded well for the most part so far.
While this game exposed many of the Celtics flaws, they were still able to pull out a win. Many of them have been discussed in prior games, such as their lack of scoring depth, their defending woes, how they can’t hold onto their leads, etc. Yet despite all that, the Celtics have been in pretty much every game, with the Christmas Day blowout at the hands of the Nets being the lone exception. The other two games came down the last shot, as they were in it right until the end. Despite some of their struggles, this team has still been one of the top teams in the East, and they are doing it without the 20 PPG contributions from Kemba Walker. If he can return and play up to his full potential, this Celtics squad could be scary.
The Celtics will run into the Washington Wizards in their next matchup. The Wizards have struggled mightily to start the season, starting the season 2-6. Despite that, they should not be taken lightly. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook have teamed up to form a dynamic backcourt pairing for the Wizards, and if they can get their defensive gameplan more in tune, they could turn into a serious threat. With Marcus Smart and Jeff Teague dealing with injuries, the Celtics may find themselves struggling to defend the Wizards dynamic offense. As we’ve seen throughout the start of the season though, the Celtics can rely on Tatum and Brown to roll with the punches, and deliver the Celtics a victory when the final buzzer sounds.