Celtics-Heat review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Heat review: What we saw . . .

BOSTON With so many players seeing extended minutes, it's a given that mistakes would be higher than usual. That certainly was the case in Boston's 78-66 win over the Miami Heat. Boston, one of the NBA's best at forcing turnovers, had the Heat turn the ball over 25 times.

"It wasn't a pretty game, obviously with twenty-five turnovers," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Boston's defense certainly played a role in the Heat's unusually high number of turnovers. But you can't discount the fact that the Heat were playing without their Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, either.

"Some guys were handling it a little more than they are normally accustomed to," Spoelstra said. "That's not an excuse, though. Some of them were careless ones to just begin the game that kind of got the momentum going in that direction unfortunately. We couldn't recover; it became contagious from there."

And the Celtics weren't that much better in terms of turnovers as they committed 15 which led to 18 points for the Heat.

Indeed, turnovers certainly played a role in the game's outcome. Here are some other keys outlined prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With both teams resting key guys, bench play becomes essential. Scoring against the Celtics has been difficult for most teams this season. But for playoff-bound clubs, bench scoring has indeed been a luxury that few have enjoyed. This season, the Celtics are giving up just 22.5 bench points to playoff-bound teams which ranks second in the NBA. Miami has one of the NBA's better defenses as well, but opposing benches are getting 31.5 points which ranks 15th in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston's bench defense was once again solid, as they limited the Heat's reserves to just 27 points - 11 of which came from James Jones. Meanwhile, the C's second unit played a major role in Tuesday's win, tallying 38 points with Marquis Daniels leading the way with 13.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Udonis Haslem vs. Brandon Bass: Inserting Haslem into the starting lineup gives the Heat some much-needed toughness. However, Bass will be a tough cover for Haslem because of his ability to stretch defenses with his mid-range game. Bass ranks fifth in the NBA in shots taken (273) between 15-19 feet. He's shooting 48.7 percent on those shots, which is better than the four players (Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Russell Westbrook) ahead of him.

WHAT WE SAW: This was a matchup that essentially ended with neither player coming out on top. Bass had eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, to go with eight rebounds. Haslem had six points on 3-for-4 shooting, and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Mario Chalmers remains a bit of a mystery in terms of his impact on the Heat. For Miami to have the kind of season they envision, they'll need him to become a more consistent threat both as a scorer and as a playmaker. With Rajon Rondo possibly not playing tonight, this will be Chalmers' chance to shine. But if he struggles against the Celtics' second unit players, the C's will have planted yet another seed of doubt in the Heat's head.

WHAT WE SAW: Chalmers never established himself in this game, finishing with just eight points on 3-for-10 shooting. He had five assists, but turned the ball over three times.

STAT TO TRACK: The Boston Celtics have had their issues on the boards all season, as have the Miami Heat who rank 18th in the league this season while the C's are dead-last. However, it hasn't been as big an issue for the Heat who are giving up a league-low 39.7 rebounds per game. The C's are better at limiting opponents rebounds as well. Opponents are averaging 43.1 rebounds per game against the C's which ranks 21st in the NBA. Rebounding has been a factor in all three meetings between these two teams. In their first matchup on Dec. 27, Boston lost the game and was out-rebounded, 38-28. In the last two games, both wins for the Celtics, they won the battle of the boards 49-47 and 40-34, respectively.

WHAT WE SAW: Rebounding in this one was never really a factor, even with the Heat being plus-six for the game. Winning the battle of the boards usually results in winning hustle categories such as second-chance points and points in the paint. However, Boston had a 42-34 advantage in points in the paint, and the two played to a 10-all tie in second-chance points.

Opportunity knocked in Game 3, and Celtics answered

Opportunity knocked in Game 3, and Celtics answered

CLEVELAND -- Marcus Smart sat at his locker stall late Sunday night, soaking in the moment for all it was worth. 

The Celtics were just minutes removed from one of the biggest playoff upsets ever, knocking off Cleveland, 111-108, a game in which Boston was a 16.5-point underdog.
 
Smart’s play had a lot to do with the win as he scored a career-high 27 points, which included a career-best seven made 3-pointers.
 
But this win was about more than Smart having the game of his life.
 
It was about opportunity, an unspoken rallying cry that has galvanized this Celtics team through what has been a season in which they defied the odds and naysayers time and time again.
 
Boston was supposed to be pretty good this season, but no one predicted the C's would finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
 
Isaiah Thomas had a breakout year in 2015-16, but few anticipated he would be even better while putting up numbers that rank among the greatest single seasons in the storied franchise’s illustrious history.
 
Then Thomas goes down with a right hip injury that will keep him out of the remainder of the playoffs, and the Celtics hit the road while trailing the defending champion Cavaliers 2-0. 
 
So what do they do? Oh, not much. 

They just come up with the most epic playoff comeback win ever against a LeBron James-led team.
 
You can dissect what happened Sunday night all you want, but in the end, it came down to one thing: Opportunity.
 
Which is why Boston’s Game 3 win was so sweet. And for those of us who have followed the ups and downs of this team this season recognized it was another example of the Celtics making the most of their opportunity to shock the world.
 
Look no further than Smart, a gritty physical defender whose shot-making isn’t exactly top-10 worthy.
 
No, I’m not talking about top 10 in the NBA. I’m talking top 10 on his team.
 
And yet there he was, delivering his usual strong play defensively while channeling his inner Isaiah Thomas to get big-time buckets in the second half, which included 11 points during a 26-10 run to close out the third and bring Boston within 87-82 going into the fourth.
 
With the surge came more opportunities for other Celtics like Kelly Olynyk, who gets the superstar treatment in Cleveland with more boos than any other Boston player. (They have not forgotten about that Olynyk-Kevin Love incident a couple years ago, apparently.)
 
Olynyk soaked in the boos while coming off the bench to splash the Cavs defense for 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
 
“Keep fighting, keep fighting,” Olynyk told me when I asked him about what Game 3’s win says about this team. “You can knock us down but we’ll keep getting back up. That’s what we did out there.”
 
Opportunity.
  
The Celtics had their moment on Sunday night, reminding us just how tough-minded a bunch they can be when they are boxed in a corner and left with two choices: Fight or face inevitable elimination.
 
Because had they lost Game 3, they would have been down 3-0 in the series. And no one needs reminding that no NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 playoff deficit.
 
Fortunately for them, that’s no longer an option.
 
Instead, they have a chance to even this series up and regain home court advantage if they can win Game 4, which, much like Game 3, seems a long shot.
 
They don’t care.
 
It has never been about being the favorite or underdog. It’s about the opportunity, something the Celtics gave themselves with Sunday’s win.