Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 115-99 win over the Boston Celtics (25-16) on Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
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1. With 12 rotation-level players healthy, coach Erik Spoelstra expanded the rotation Thursday. After using a 10-man rotation for most of the season, the Heat (20-20) went 11 deep against the Celtics.
That means Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside, James Johnson, Rodney McGruder, Dwyane Wade, Dion Waiters, Bam Adebayo, Derrick Jones Jr., Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Johnson all played. The only active Heat players who did not get in the game were Wayne Ellington and Udonis Haslem.
The result was a balanced attack that featured plenty of ball movement, as the Heat tallied a season-high 33 assists while six players finished with double digit points. Seven players logged at least 20 minutes of action.
But in reality, 10 played because Olynyk logged five minutes of court time in the second quarter and never re-entered the game. With the Celtics using small switchable and quick lineups for most of the game, Spoelstra turned to athletic options like Jones and Adebayo to play the majority of the second half.
“Look, we’re not happy with where we are right now,” Spoelstra said. “The strength of our roster is our depth and sometimes on different nights, it requires different strengths of our team. That’s not a criticism on anybody. I probably feel most empathy right now for K.O. This is his former team. I know he would have loved to be out there competing. But the lineup, I looked out there and I saw a bunch of two guards, either All-Stars or future All-Stars at swing positions.”
That’s the one luxury Spoelstra has coaching this roster. It’s hard to find a set rotation because there is a logjam of rotation players. But because there isn’t a set combination, it allows Spoelstra to tweak the Heat’s rotation from game to game based on the opponent.
Jones, who did not play in Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets, turned in another quality performance with 14 points and seven rebounds, and was a team-best plus-17 in 29 minutes off the bench.
And Adebayo looked to be the right big man to use against the Celtics, as he finished with eight points, seven rebounds and five assists in 27 minutes.
Both Jones and Adebayo played the entire fourth quarter.
Winslow wasn’t bad either. He continues to flourish in a point guard role, ending the night with a stat line that included 13 points, seven rebounds, a career-high 11 assists and just one turnover.
Winslow has dished out 35 assists and committed just six turnovers in the past five games.
“Just trying to do my job as a leader of this team,” Winslow. “Get the guys organized. Get us playing to our identity, which is tough, physical and aggressive. I love filling up the stat sheet. I know I’m capable of doing it, so that felt good tonight.”
Spoelstra decided to expand the Heat’s rotation to 11 to add Jones in, and it worked. The question is, can Miami continue playing 11 moving forward? One of the Heat’s biggest strengths is its depth, and this is definitely one way to leverage that.
2. Miami’s elite-level defense made an appearance against Boston. The Heat usually wins when its defense is on, and it was on Thursday. Miami limited Boston to 99 points on 40.4 percent shooting. While Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving finished with 22 points on 10-of-19 shooting, the rest of the team combined to shoot 26 of 70 (37.1 percent).
It was one of the Heat’s most impressive defensive performances of the season, considering the Celtics entered with the league’s top offensive rating over their last 20 games. Miami held Boston to its fewest single-game point total since it scored 86 in a loss to the Jazz on Nov. 17 and its lowest single-game shooting percentage since a loss to the Knicks on Nov. 21.
The Heat, which owns the league’s seventh-best defensive rating, is 13-1 this season when holding its opponent under 100 points.
3. When adversity struck, Wade stepped up to settle the Heat.
After Boston used a big 24-6 run to cut Miami’s 26-point lead to eight with 1:24 remaining in the third quarter, Wade scored nine straight during a two-minute stretch to end the Celtics’ surge.
“At that moment, they had it going. We turned the ball over, they were getting out in transition,” Wade said. “You know a good team is going to make a run, so when I came in it was just about settling us in a little bit and then I got some shots to fall, but just the calming factor. I’ve always talked about that’s what I’m here for.”
At the end of Wade’s nine-point run, Miami led by 13. The Heat controlled the game from there.
“I’ve been on this train with him for a long time,” Spoelstra said of Wade. “He has a way of making all of us look a lot better because their defense really started to step up, took us out of our normal actions, and flattened us out for a few possessions.
“Sometimes this league is just about having great players in those important moments, swing moments over the course of a game. Obviously, they have a lot of them on their team. Dwyane, it wasn’t his stat line that really mattered, it was the timing of all these plays that he made that was so important for us.”
Wade finished with a team-high 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench.
“Dwyane made some plays and made some shots, and that gives your team confidence,” Spoelstra said. “But he doesn’t get sick at sea, obviously. He’s been in these situations a million times.”
4. Spoelstra spoke before Thursday’s game about the need for Miami to win the rebounding battle after two disappointing performances on the glass. The Heat ended up dominating the boards against the Celtics.
Miami outrebounded Boston 51-37, which is usually a good sign for a Heat team that’s averaging the fifth-most rebounds per game in the NBA.
“You could feel and see the pursuits and rebounds in traffic,” Spoelstra said. “But it can’t just be one game.”
The Heat is 13-8 this season when outrebounding its opponent.
Miami had lost the rebounding battle in each of its previous two games (both losses) by a combined margin of 109-79.
5. The Celtics were one of the hottest teams in the league, but the rested Heat took advantage of favorable circumstances Thursday. While Miami was off Wednesday, Boston hosted the Indiana Pacers to start a home-and-road back-to-back set. The Celtics won their fourth straight in a 135-108 blowout. Boston then took a late three-hour flight to Miami for its matchup against the Heat, which marked the Celtics’ third game in four nights.
It’s overly simplistic to blame Boston’s loss on this, but it definitely didn’t hurt. The Celtics are 2-5 this season on the back end of back-to-back sets.
This was something Miami couldn’t take advantage of Tuesday against Denver, which was also playing its third game in four nights on the second night of a back-to-back set.