Five takeaways from the Miami Heat’s 112-102 loss to the Boston Celtics (47-32) on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
1. The Heat (38-40) finds itself outside of the playoffs at the moment.
With a win from the Magic and losses from the Pistons and Nets on Wednesday, the Heat dropped from eighth to ninth in the Eastern Conference. Miami is one-half game behind No. 8 Orlando and No. 7 Brooklyn, and one game behind No. 6 Detroit.
How close is this playoff race? While Wednesday’s loss put the Heat in ninth, a win over the Celtics would have pushed the Heat all the way up to sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Just four games remain on Miami’s regular season schedule. Next up for the Heat is a two-game trip that begins Friday against the Timberwolves.
“Obviously, we always say one-game-at-a-time mentality. But it’s a tight race,” Justise Winslow said. “We’re watching other teams and they’re watching us. But we can only control what we can control.”
2. The Heat received positive injury news before Wednesday’s game. Then Josh Richardson went down with a left leg injury, and now the Heat is worried about its leading scorer.
Richardson exited the game with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter and didn’t return after coming down awkwardly while trying to block a Kyrie Irving layup. The play resulted in a goaltending call and a hobbled Richardson.
“We’ll just find out tomorrow,” coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about Richardson’s injury. “There’s nothing really to say about it right now.”
Dwyane Wade said: “I was obviously concerned when he left the game. At first you just thought maybe he got hit the wrong way. But the way he left the game, you knew it wasn’t. So we’re definitely concerned about him. This time of the year is a bad time for injuries, but hopefully he’s fine.”
Before Wednesday’s game, the Heat looked to be a healthier team. Spoelstra announced just two hours before tipoff that Rodney McGruder, Winslow and Richardson would each return from injury.
Richardson, who missed the previous three games with a bruised left heel, started against Boston and finished with seven points, two assists and two steals in 16 minutes before injuring his leg.
Winslow, who missed the previous nine games with a right thigh bruise, finished with four points on 2-of-8 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench. When asked to assess his performance, Winslow said “I felt pretty good. My wind was good.”
“We’re trying to just get him back in this competition. We don’t have time to wait,” Spoelstra said of bringing Winslow back. “That’s been sort of the deal all year long. Guys come back, they’re not in rhythm and we’re trying to work you back into the team. That’s always a challenging dynamic, but we need him out there. Those minutes were really important.”
McGruder, who missed the previous eight games with left knee soreness, ended the night scoreless in 10 minutes off the bench.
3. The Heat continued to play a lot of zone, and the Celtics seemed very prepared for it.
Whether it was because the Celtics had just faced the Heat on Monday to kick off the home-and-home set or the Celtics just know how to play against a zone defense, Boston looked ready for the Heat’s 2-3 look.
“They had sets that they knew they were going to. Guys knew their spots,” Winslow said when asked how Boston attacked Miami’s zone. “But I think we still affected them with the zone, but they still made shots. They’re a very well coached team with coach [Brad] Stevens over there, so they were definitely prepared for it.”
The Celtics scored 112 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the field and 9-of-24 shooting on threes, and committed just 12 turnovers. With a patient attack that included plenty of ball movement, Boston did not fall into the trap of becoming stagnant against the zone.
“I thought a lot of guys did a good job moving the ball and not rushing the tempo,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
The Celtics duo of Gordon Hayward (25 points) and Irving (23 points) combined for 48 points and nine assists. Al Horford recorded 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“I felt like we had better spacing tonight,” Hayward said of the Celtics’ approach to the zone Wednesday. “We were able to get some better looks off of it. It still gave us a little bit of trouble, but tonight was a lot better.”
The Heat has used the zone more than any other team in the league (909 possessions), with the Nets second on that list at 784.
“We have been doing it quite a bit lately,” Spoelstra said. “It’s been a good weapon for us. If we feel like we’re getting stops from it, we’ll do it. It was good in large stretches of the game tonight, as well.”
4. The Heat has really struggled against the Eastern Conference’s best.
Wednesday’s loss dropped Miami to 2-14 this season against the top five seeds in the East, and the Heat hasn’t beaten any of them since Jan. 10.
The Heat is 1-3 against the Bucks, 0-3 against the Raptors, 0-2 against the 76ers, 1-3 against the Celtics and 0-3 against the Pacers.
Considering two of the Heat’s four remaining games comes against teams from that group, that trend will likely need to change for Miami to make the playoffs. The Heat travels to take on the Raptors on Sunday and hosts the 76ers on Tuesday.
5. Dion Waiters continues to take a lot of threes.
While Waiters has been playing better recently, he’s relying on the three-point shot too much. He’s attempted 58 threes over the past five games, which is an average of 11.6 per game. He’s made 36.2 percent of them.
To put those numbers into perspective, only James Harden (67) and Stephen Curry (59) have shot more threes during this five-game stretch.
Waiters, who finished Wednesday’s loss with 21 points on 8-of-22 shooting from the field and 5-of-13 shooting on threes in 42 minutes, is shooting 36.9 percent from deep this season.
So Waiters has been a solid three-point shooter, but he’s best when he’s mixing in drives to the basket a little more. He’s averaging 9.5 drives to the basket this season, compared to the 14 drives he averaged in 2016-17.