BOSTON The transition game has been a good friend of the Miami Heat all season, courtesy of their ability to force turnovers which trigger fast break opportunities that more often than not, lead to easy points.
For all that went right in Boston's 91-72 win over the Heat on Sunday, limiting Miami's to limit Miami's points off turnovers huge. The Heat came into Sunday's game averaging 19.6 points off of turnovers this season which trailed only Memphis (19.8) in the NBA. On Sunday, Boston turned the ball over 16 times, but it only generated 11 points for the Heat. Of those 16 turnovers, seven came in the fourth quarter when the game was essentially over.
"You're not going to beat Miami if you turn the ball over," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "We talked about it this morning; I said, 'If you've got a choice between saving the ball and throwing it in the stands, throw it in the stands.'"
Limiting Miami's points off turnovers was just one of the many factors Boston benefited from in what was their signature win of the season. Here's a review of other keys identified prior to the game, and how they may or may not have played out in Boston's surprisingly decisive win over the Heat.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: This will be the second time these two have faced off, but much has changed since their matchup back on December 27. Paul Pierce (right heel) did not play in that game. Kevin Garnett, who now plays center, was playing primarily at the power forward position then. And Greg Stiemsma was just another rookie big man at the end of an NBA bench who didn't play. Today, he's the C's best shot-blocker who is now one of the first Celtics reserves to see action. "We're definitely a better team now than we were at the start of the season," Stiemsma told CSNNE.com. "Hopefully we'll just keep improving, and go into the playoffs playing our best basketball." Miami has a slightly different look as well with the recent addition of Ronny Turiaf who signed with the Heat on March 21 after being waived by the Denver Nuggets. It'll be worth monitoring how the new faces who weren't around or were in different roles the first time these two met, will fare today.
WHAT WE SAW: Paul Pierce had 23 points, a big difference compared to the five points scored by Sasha Pavlovic (he filled in for Pierce who was out with a heel injury) on Dec. 27. Greg Stiemsma fouled out again for Boston, but still managed to chip in six points, four rebounds, two steals and a block before exiting the game. Again, a significant improvement compared to not playing (coaches decision) in their first meeting in December. The only new face since then that's in the Heat rotation, is Ronny Turiaf. He played just under seven minutes, but was scoreless while picking up three personal fouls.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. Dwyane Wade: Bradley's ability to cut to the basket - A LOT - for lay-ups and lately, start knocking down jumpers, will be put to the test against Wade who is one of the more under-rated perimeter defenders in the NBA. Bradley's aggressive style defensively will face the ultimate challenge in Wade, a big-time scorer who has a way of getting even the best defenders in early foul trouble. Whether Bradley starts or comes off the bench in place of Ray Allen (he's questionable to play after missing the last five games with a right ankle injury).
WHAT WE SAW: You knew Avery Bradley wouldn't shut down Wade, but he made him work a lot harder than anyone outside the Celtics locker room, expected. Wade had 15 points, but needed 17 shots (he missed 11) to get it. In addition to forcing Wade into tough shots, Bradley also managed a highlight-worthy block of one in the second quarter. When you throw in the fact that Bradley finished with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, he clearly did his job and then some.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett's last two matchups at center pitted him against Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, easily two players Garnett had no problem getting amped up to face. Joel Anthony? Not quite the same sizzle, but potentially poses an even greater problem. Anthony is a high-energy, all-out hustle kind of player - the kind of player whose strengths work against what Garnett does best. Keeping Anthony from controlling the boards should be Garnett's primary responsibility today.
WHAT WE SAW: While the numbers don't exactly jump out at you, Garnett had another solid game for the Celtics. His job on Sunday was primarily to do a good job defensively on Chris Bosh (he had four points on 2-for-11 shooting), rebound and help protect the paint area. Garnett had 10 points and eight rebounds in the win. "We're a grit team," Garnett said. "Our positions and our personnel, it's all about our system. You do what you're told, know your role Doc's system is not real complicated, but it does call for you to give everything you have."
STAT TO TRACK: Boston has been a lot more efficient offensively around the basket lately, aided largely by their dribble penetration which has resulted in a slight spike in points in the paint. That'll be key against a Miami Heat team that has been among the NBA's best all season in limiting opponents scoring around the rim. Teams have averaged just 36.9 points in the paint against Miami this season, the third-fewest allowed in the NBA. Although Boston's 34.8 points in the paint average ranks just 29th in the league, the C's have increased their points in the paint scoring to 40 per game during their current four-game winning streak.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston's scoring around the basket never really materialized into a game-changing issue. The Celtics hit their season average for points scored in the paint, with 34. Although as the Celtics began to blow out the Heat in the second half, points in the paint was among the factors contributing to them pulling away. Boston had 24 of its 34 points in the paint, in the second half. While Miami had 40 points in the paint for the game, only 10 came in the second half which was due in part because Boston didn't allow them too many scoring opportunity in transition or off turnovers.