BOSTON - The Miami Heat werent trying to beat the Boston Celtics at their own game. The Cs had too many minutes under their belt together for the Heat to compete with their chemistry.
Rather, they tried to do it playing Heat basketball.
It was a gameplan that may have looked shaky and unreliable at the start of the season, but more than 50 games in, head coach Erik Spoelstra had seen it coming together.
Were not catching them in terms of games played together, Spoelstra said prior to the game. But we have other things that other teams cant catch up to us with, and thats a game that were trying to establish defensively. Offensively, in December we became an explosive transition team. The last month weve been working quite a bit on our half-court execution. And we want to develop a game that can beat you in a lot of different ways.
The Heat entered Sundays game with a half-game lead over the Celtics for first place in the Eastern Conference. They were 9-1 in their previous 10 games and were in the midst of an eight-game winning streak.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have been hampered by injuries during that stretch. They were 5-5 in their last 10 and had lost two straight.
Even though the Celtics had a 2-0 series lead, Spoelstra argued his team was vastly different than the last time the Celtics beat them, 112-107, on November 11, 2010.
If you watch us play, were dramatically different, he said. We were so far behind offensively, not developing any level of trust. We only had a quarter of our offensive system in. guys were not comfortable offensively with their roles, and thats to be expected bringing in a lot of new components. Weve used the regular season now to develop many different aspects of our game. And so, like a lot of teams, were much different than the beginning of November. Arguably were the most improved team since the end of November.
On Sunday, however, the result wasnt any different.
After taking a 20-15 first quarter lead, the Celtics outscored the Heat, 24-23, in the second quarter. The Heat were up 43-39 at halftime, but that edge quickly depleted.
The Celtics came out swinging in the third quarter, outscoring the Heat 35-18 in spite of a scoreless 12 minutes from Paul Pierce. (He scored just one point the whole game.) The Heat shot 27.3 percent from the field while the Celtics made 10 of 12. The Cs also got to the line 17 times, the Heat only eight.
The Heat fought back in the fourth to hold the Celtics to 11 points, but a missed free throw by LeBron James and two made free throws by Glen Davis clinched the win for the Cs.
The Celtics took a 3-0 regular season series lead with an 85-82 victory.
Were disappointed. We did not play to our potential, said Spoelstra. Still had an opportunity there at the end a possession here, a possession there. Whatever happens during the course of the game, you want to simply give yourself a chance there at the end, and we had a chance. It could have swung either way, but we werent able to get over that hump, and thats a very poor first half, third quarter. And again we lost our focus, we did not play to our standards.
While neither team is putting too much stock into regular season contests, the Heat have yet to find a way to beat the Cs, whether it is playing Celtics ball or Heat ball.
They are defending Eastern Conference champions, said Spoelstra. You have to go through them and they arent going to make it easy. So we understand that this isnt going to be an easy ride for us, and thats where were at our best. Were able to be objective and figure things out and have a breakthrough. Right now were disappointed about it, but we still have an opportunity to get better and change things in the next 28 games.
The Celtics will see how much has changed when they face the Heat for their final regular season matchup on April 10 in Miami.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter athttp:twitter.comjcameratoNBA