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Zone defense fails Heat in Boston

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Goran Dragic scored a season-high 30 points.

NBA: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat, without Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson due to injuries, fell 23 points behind the Boston Celtics in the first half Monday night. Goran Dragic led a resurgence in the third quarter, though, and Miami got within three points twice in the fourth.

The last time Miami cut the deficit to three was on a fade-away jumper from Dwyane Wade with two minutes left to make it a 103-100 game. The Celtics came up short on the other end of the floor. But Dion Waiters missed a 3-pointer early in a possession. In a semi-transition sequence, Kyrie Irving raced down the floor. He slammed into Kelly Olynyk and put a shot up off the glass. It went in, and the referee called a blocking foul.

And the Celtics held on to defeat Miami, 110-105. Just two days after climbing back to the .500 mark, the Heat fell below it at 38-39. But the Orlando Magic lost to the Toronto Raptors Monday night, and Miami kept hold of the eighth seed.

The Heat displayed grittiness to storm back from the 23-point deficit, but faced a few problems that made winning the game tough. For one, Miami’s 2-3 zone defense didn’t work for the Heat, as the Celtics connected on 17 3-pointers. The first time the Heat cut the deficit to three in the fourth quarter, the Celtics made back-to-back 3s to balloon the lead to nine.

Al Horford was particularly adept at finding the spaces on the court the Heat defense left open. Perhaps Erik Spoelstra felt he had to use the zone defense because three of his best perimeter defenders were injured — Winslow, Richardson and Rodney McGruder. Moreover, lengthy, athletic defender Derrick Jones Jr., who started the game at power forward, suffered an injury late in the second quarter and did not return. The Heat’s young, athletic players are all getting injured down to the wire of their push for the playoffs.

And although Goran Dragic scored a season-high 30 points, Miami’s offense was a little too anemic. The Heat only mustered 17 points in the first quarter, and Waiters and Wade took some early-in-the-shot-clock 3s when they had their best chance to win the game. Wade and Dragic had a lot of success finding Bam Adebayo for alley-oop dunks off the pick-and-roll.

But Miami needed a bit more varied offense, something that Richardson and Winslow would’ve helped bring. Miami may be able to squeak by lottery-bound teams like the Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks without those players. But against a good team like the Celtics, it wasn’t enough.

Kelly Olynyk shot just 4-for-11 from the field and committed a costly turnover in the final minute that closed the door on any chance the Heat had of winning the game (It came with 25.5 seconds left and the Heat down four). But Olynyk played 39 minutes Monday, crossing the 1,700-minute threshold that earns him a $1 million bonus on the season. The Heat will now pay the lottery tax, something they tried to avoid with the Ryan Anderson trade at the February trade deadline.

The Heat will again face the Celtics on Wednesday, the second of a home-and-home set.