The Celtics’ mastery of the Heat continued Saturday night – even with a roster vastly different than one coach Brad Stevens put on the floor in Boston’s season series sweeps of Miami each of the last two seasons.
Behind a game-high 24 points from Kyrie Irving – who scored seven of Boston’s last eight points – and a relentless Celtics defense which produced 19 turnovers and held Miami to 43 percent shooting, Boston beat Miami for the eighth straight time 96-90 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Goran Dragic led the Heat (2-3) with 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting and helped rally Miami to within a bucket at 88-86 with 1:53 to play in the fourth quarter. But the Heat couldn’t stop Irving late and shot 7-of-31 from three-point range, struggling to find many open looks most of the night.
“That’s what he is. He’s a great closer in this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “His handle allows him to get wherever he needs to go and his range makes you have to extend your defense quite a bit. Those plays at the end, the finish was, how many guys can make that finish? Then the pull-up three on a high pick-and-roll, it was defended OK. That’s just what great players do.”
Miami, which came in averaging the third-fewest turnovers in the league at 13.8 per game, had 11 first half turnovers which led directly to 15 points for Boston. The Celtics (4-2) finished with 21 points off Heat turnovers in all and 21 points second-chance points off 11 offensive rebounds.
“What you had was a throwback possession game,” Spoelstra said. “Neither team was getting great looks. It felt like at the end that they were exposing us, but it still ended up being 96-90. In this new modern NBA, that’s a game in the 80s.
“When you have a possession game like that, now those turnovers and the throwaway possessions on outlet passes, inbound passes, crosscourt passes and things of that nature really crush you. On top of that, to give up all the second chance points on the loose balls. From there, I think that’s where the game was.
“You have to grind out possessions. You have to execute. We had some where we executed well and we had some where we didn’t, and the same for them. But I think the difference was all those extra possessions and turnovers and offensive rebounds.”
Miami led 26-21 after one quarter, but never led again after the Celtics went on a 11-0 run midway through the second quarter behind Marcus Smart and took a 47-45 lead into the half.
With Hassan Whiteside out for the fourth game in a row with a bone bruise to his left knee, rookie Bam Adebayo made his second straight start at center for Miami and had six points and three rebounds and a block in 24 minutes. Adebayo played valuable minutes in the fourth quarter.
Dion Waiters did not. He played only 24 minutes and none in the fourth quarter. He finished 2-of-8 shooting for five points. Spoelstra said Waiters being relegated to spectator had nothing to do with his sore left ankle.
“It was just we were looking for anything to stem the tide,” Spoelstra said. “The group that we had in there crawled all the way back. We wanted to keep on going and see if we could find a way to steal a win. We weren’t able to do that.”