Boston first-year coach Brad Stevens had a reputation in college for getting the most out of his players. It would appear that trait has carried over to the professional version of the sport.
With the core that for so long made Boston one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference off to Brooklyn and the team’s star player out indefinitely with a knee injury, the Celtics were expected to roll over for one opponent after another this season.
That hasn’t been the case, and Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena a team that featured rookie Kelly Olynyk at center handed the Heat its first home loss of the season.
The Celtics’ 111-110 victory came in dramatic fashion with Jeff Green essentially batting in a three-pointer with six-tenths of a second left, and Boston only had a chance in the end after Dwyane Wade was called for a free-throw violation. Wade missed two free throws with less than a second to play, and he missed the rim completely on the second attempt, which allowed Stevens, who was coaching at Butler University last season, to call a timeout and set up the final play.
“I was trying to hit the rim, and it didn’t go as planned,” Wade said of his intentional miss gone horribly wrong.
Said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: “That clearly did not work.”
After the Celtics’ timeout, Gerald Wallace inbounded the ball over Chris Bosh to the far corner — the same corner where Ray Allen made his famous three-pointer in Game 6 of the NBA Finals — and Green caught the ball and shot it in the same motion.
Amazingly, the prayer of a shot went in and the plucky and young Celtics began celebrating while the game’s officials reviewed the play.
“I was in the first row because I faded back so far. I ended up in some lady’s lap,” Green said.
“This game always has, for the people on the inside, has an energy and a karma about it,” Spoelstra said. “And we did too many things where we did not deserve to win that game, and it cost us in the end.
“Even when it looked like we had daylight, we just were not doing enough of the little things, the tough things, the way we’re capable of, and I think it’s pretty clear we were just trying to win this game.”
The Heat (4-3) led 110-106 with three seconds to play after LeBron James made a pair of free throws. He finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in the loss and was 9 of 13 from the field.
Of all the wackiness the game offered, this might be the most incongruous statistic of all: the Heat shot 57.7 percent from the field and lost.
Bosh scored 20 points, and Wade had 18 points and seven assists. The Heat even got 10 points apiece off the bench from Chris Andersen and Michael Beasley.
“It’s a shame that type of offensive game gets overshadowed by an extremely poor defensive effort,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat’s attention to defense was almost nonexistent. The Celtics (3-4) shot 51.7 percent from the field, 47.6 percent from three-point range and had 31 points in the final period.
Green led Boston with 24 points, going 5 of 16 from the field but 5 of 8 from three-point range.
“They got a lot of confidence,” Bosh said. “They started hitting a lot of bombs, and they finished with a bomb.”
Spoelstra was furious after the game at the Heat’s nonchalant approach.
“I could go on and on,” Spoelstra said about the Heat’s defense. “The lack of awareness of it — of energy, of effort, of running it down our gut, beating us off dribble, open shots all night.”
The Celtics scored 54 points in the paint, outrebounded the Heat 39-31, had 15 fast-break points to the Heat’s five and outscored the Heat 13-5 in second-chance points.
Guard Avery Bradley had 17 points and Jordan Crawford scored 15, going 3 of 5 from three-point range. Jared Sullinger had 12 points off the bench. Sullinger and Brandon Bass led the Celtics with eight rebounds each.
“Categorically, it’s probably across the board that we were very poor in any situation — off the dribble, air space, effort to get back in transition and get your defense set, helps side,” Spoelstra said. “Pretty much all of it.”
On Wade’s free-throw violation, Spoelstra stopped short of blaming Wade but indicated that the Heat wasn’t prepared for the moment.
“We just need to cover things — we really do,” Spoelstra said. “We need to cover more situations.”
James said before the game that the Celtics were no longer one of the Heat’s rivals. After the game, he seemed to regret that dismissive attitude on some cosmic level.
“We messed with the game,” James said.