After watching the Heat snap their team’s 16-game winning streak in Miami back in November, the Celtics’ Twitter account declared Wednesday afternoon: “They snapped the streak. We want revenge.”
They didn’t get it.
In one of the most surprising regular season upsets in team history, the Heat shocked the Celtics 90-89 at TD Garden – minus Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, James Johnson and Justise Winslow (half of the eight guys who played in Miami’s 104-98 win last month).
Behind a career-high 32 points from former Celtic Kelly Olynyk and some gritty and rarely used zone defense, the Heat (16-15) built a 12-point lead in the second half before Kyrie Irving and company mounted a late comeback. But Irving, who led Boston with 33 points, took a 20-foot jumper over Josh Richardson on the final shot of the game and missed.
“I’m not sure there’s too many other players you’d rather not be looking down the barrel at you, with four or five seconds to go, ball in his hands,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Irving. “He can create a look, a clean look. And sometimes you also need to be lucky. J-Rich was kind of there. Tyler [Johnson] was kind of there. But that was a fairly clean look.
“But we did enough things in the second half that at least put you in a position to win, certainly defensively. It was just a slow, grind-out, in-the-mud type game. Our competitors rose to the challenge and got some timely misses at the end, and K.O. was tremendous, obviously. More than anything, he was a competitor tonight. That’s why we like having him on our side.”
Boston (26-8) trailed 87-76 with 2:46 remaining. That’s when Irving started the comeback. He scored nine of the Celtics’ final 13 points, but couldn’t off-set a magical night for Olynyk, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with Miami this summer after spending his first four seasons in the league in Boston and was honored by the Celtics with a Heroes Among Us award in the first half.
Olynyk scored the Heat’s final bucket with a thunderous slam with a minute to play to put the Heat ahead 90-86. But after the dunk he couldn’t get up and his left leg got caught underneath his body and went numb. Feeling eventually returned and the knee felt a whole lot better after Miami pulled off its first win in Boston since March 25, 2015.
“We know how important it was for K.O. – and [Jordan Mickey],” Spoelstra said of getting the win against their former team. “Both these guys wanted to play well here and come out of here with a win. And they both played great minutes. J-Mick’s minutes were very good, very impactful. He’s getting better, Each game, each opportunity that he's getting, he's making the most of it. But he's improving. I really like what I'm seeing.”
Miami’s zone defense in the second half – something Spoelstra was saving up his sleeve – befuddled Boston. The Celtics shot 4 of 17 from the field in the third quarter and finished 37.5 percent for the game.
“The game was starting to go the other way,” Spoelstra explained of why he employed the zone defense. “Look, we had, what, nine guys? We were running out of bodies, guys were starting to get tired. I knew guys were going to have play probably 20 minutes in the second half. Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures in this league.
“I don’t know if you'll see a steady diet of that from us, but we needed it tonight, and we’ll take every single one of those possessions. We milked it for as long as we possibly could and I think we had a little bit more energy and legs in the second half. I mean, it also got us back in the game and we were able to extend a little bit of a lead, some breathing room and gain some confidence from there.”
Miami shot 37.8 percent from the field in the first half, missed eight of its first 11 free throws and 11 of its first 12 three-point attempts and yet only trailed 44-36 at the half. The Heat then went on a 15-2 run midway through the third quarter and took a 58-51 lead on a Bam Adebayo floater with 3:49 to play in the third quarter.
Richardson, who has been leading the Heat in scoring with most of its starters out, had 19 points, four rebounds and six assists for Miami. Dion Waiters finished with 10 points on 3 of 11 shooting.
The upset by the Heat more than made amends for a loss to the worst team in the league Monday night in Atlanta. Miami now heads home to play seven of its next eight games at AmericanAirlines Arena.