The Miami Heat got off to another slow start in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, the only problem this time is that they couldn’t erase the big deficit and come back.
Gordon Hayward returned to the lineup and played 31 minutes for Boston. I wrote about what the Heat can do defensively to alter that narrative and keep Hayward in check. But with his return, and the Celtics win, many are starting to wonder if the Heat’s 10-2 start to the playoffs is going to begin to fade.
The Celtics figured out the zone. The Heat looked tired. Boston’s talent rose to the surface. The NBA wants Lakers-Celtics.
You name it. But while there are certainly plenty of valid reasons to have some concern...or I would rather call it a healthy respect of your opponent, I also think there are plenty of reasons that the Heat are just fine.
In fact, I’ve labeled three reasons why the Heat are just fine. We can spin our wheels talking adjustments and changes and lineup shuffles, but maybe...just maybe they lost a game for other reasons and while some changes need to be made, there are enough reasons to think everything will be ok.
So here’s 3 REASONS THE HEAT ARE JUST FINE.
#1 — THERE’S NO WAY MIAMI ALLOWS BOSTON TO SCORE IN THE PAINT LIKE THEY DID IN GAME 3.
The Celtics scored 60 points in the paint in Game 3. Yikes. That is the most of any playoff game for the Celtics so far, and it is the 2nd most the Heat have allowed all season long. There’s no way that the Heat will allow that to happen again. There’s just no way.
When the Heat can limit those points in the paint, they make Boston beat them from outside — and that’s the strategy any coach wants. Because of all that paint points, the Celtics shot 48% from the field and that’s an issue. Hopefully I don’t need to break this down any further for you why this is important. But here’s the simple explanation.
Typically it is easier to score when you are closer to the basket than it is further away.
If Miami can knock off 20 of those paint points, then they are in much, much better shape.
#2 — THE HEAT WILL SHOOT BETTER FROM THREE-POINT RANGE.
In Game 3, the Heat shot 12-44 from deep which is 27.3%. They Heat shot 38% on average all year long, so if they shoot their average they hit 17 threes and again, that game looks a lot different.
Tyler Herro got a hot start, but ended up just 4-12. Jae Crowder who has been absolutely money from beyond the arc was 2-10 from deep. Duncan Robinson who hit six threes in Game 2 was 4-8 but some of them came in a late flurry where he was shooting regardless of coverage. And Goran Dragic who has been so good in Games 1 and 2 was only 1-5 from deep (2-10 overall). Kelly Olynyk was 0-4 and he was open for all of them.
All of that poor shooting led to an overall FG% of 38% in Game 3 and typically anytime you shoot under 40% in a NBA game it is going to be really hard to win. You can give credit to Boston’s defense, that’s fine. But it’s a make or miss league...and for the vast majority of the postseason the Heat have been makers...this game felt like an outlier and it won’t last.
The Heat will shoot better. They will continue to jack them up from range, and they will convert at a better percentage. Maybe not everyone is going to be hot, but they are going to be better and that makes a big difference.
#3 — THE HEAT’S DEPTH WILL RETURN AS AN ADVANTAGE
Boston tightened up the rotation. Only 6 players played double-digit minutes...the starters and Gordon Hayward. They are playing their major guys 40+ minutes and they had to...this was a game they had to get.
But the depth of the Heat was invisible in Game 3. Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. played good minutes off the bench for Miami and Kendrick Nunn was limited to 4 minutes. I suspect he won’t be in the lineup moving forward...he just hasn’t done anything to earn minutes right now. A few days off should help Andre Iguodala who had a tight back...he has been invisible mostly against the Celtics, and if he can play decent minutes, he will help tremendously.
Herro had 22 off the bench, but the Heat will get contributions from someone off their bench to supplement the starters. This has been Miami all season. ALL SEASON they have been deep and lethal from anyone. It will return.
I feel less confident about this one than the other two, but these are the reasons not to panic.
What about you? What’s keeping your head above water right now believing the Heat will be fine in Game 4?