John Tomase

Rating Celtics concern levels in five areas after Game 2 loss to Heat

What can the C's dismiss as a one-off, and what might come back to haunt them?

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When the 64-win top seed loses to a play-in club missing two of its five best players, there's no such thing as an overreaction.

If Wednesday's dispiriting Game 2 loss to the Heat had you experiencing PTSD (Post-Traumatic Spoelstra Disorder), it's justified. The Heat are kind of like the old Patriots. No matter how high-powered the opposition, they find a way to play the game on their terms. It's infuriating, but man, respect where it's due.

So as the series shifts to Miami for Game 3 on Saturday, the Celtics face some uneasy questions. Was Miami's hot shooting a one-off? Will Erik Spoelstra continue to wrong-foot the Celtics with new wrinkles? Does Boston's overwhelming talent disparity mean anything between these two teams?

Let's examine five issues from Wednesday's double-digit loss and rate our concern level on a scale from 1 to 5. A couple of these, I hate to say, aren't going anywhere.

1. Joe Mazzulla vs. Erik Spoelstra

Oh boy. It's times like this when the worst fears of every Celtics fan -- that Mazzulla can't meet the moment -- tingle the spine with dread.

The sideline demeanors tell the story. Mazzulla stalks with a clenched jaw and his eyes opened just a bit too wide. Spoelstra looks alternately bemused and harried when his team is getting run off the floor, but always calm, like the grizzled editor with a loosened tie and three days of stubble who nonetheless has all the answers.

Everyone expected the Heat to play rugby after Caleb Martin's blindside hit on Jayson Tatum late in Game 1. Junking up the game supposedly was the only way they could compete.

Instead, they took a page from Steph Curry's Warriors and said bomb's away, making a staggering 23 3-pointers. The overwhelming majority were wide open, because Mazzulla never adjusted. He similarly chose a struggling Kristaps Porzingis over the stouter Al Horford in crunch time, and he watched the Celtics hunt matchups all night instead of moving the ball.

If the coaching clash becomes the dominant theme of the series, buckle up.

Concern level: 5.

Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has 110 playoff wins to Joe Mazzulla's 12.

2. 3-point shooting

This seems like an easy fix: guard the shooters. Without Jimmy Butler to create in the mid-post or Terry Rozier to threaten a high-volume scoring night, Miami is limited offensively. Jrue Holiday and Derrick White silenced Tyler Herro in Game 1, but the Miami guard scored or assisted on 16 of Miami's 3's in Game 2.

The Celtics clearly had a plan to let relative non-shooters like Martin and rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. beat them, but once the duo obliged, the Celtics should've upped their defensive pressure. Instead, they left them wide open all night, and the two responded by making 8 of 14 from deep.

Miami shot 37 percent on 3's during the season, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they might make a few. And if the Celtics assume Miami will simply level off in Game 3, we need only reference last year's Eastern Conference Finals for the dangers of banking on regression.

But still – are the Heat really going to make another 20? Feels unlikely, as long as the Celtics offer more concerted resistance.

Concern level: 3

3. Kristaps Porzingis

What happened? Boston's unicorn looked more like a miniature pony in Game 2, shooting just 1 for 9 and posting a staggering minus-32 in 30 minutes. Had Porzingis played like the player we saw all year, torturing smaller defenders in the post, stretching the floor, and altering shots on defense, it wouldn't have mattered what Miami shot from 3.

The Heat were physical and kept Porzingis from reaching his spot just inside the foul line. The 12-footers that pay his salary instead became 16-footers, with diminished results.

We're only one game removed from Porzingis scoring an efficient 18 and making four of his eight 3-pointers, though, so this feels like more of an aberration. Look for the Celtics to get Porzingis involved early in Game 3.

Concern level: 2

Jaylen Brown discusses the Miami Heat's physicality and their ability to negate Kristaps Porzingis offensively.

4. Hunting matchups

Repeat after me: nothing bogs down the Celtics offense like playing 1-on-1, nothing bogs down the Celtics offense like playing 1-on-1, nothing bogs...

We've seen this periodically, where the Celtics get a matchup they consider so favorable, they pound it to the exclusion of ball movement. On Wednesday, that meant targeting Herro with Jaylen Brown, and on one level, it worked. Brown got whatever he wanted and scored 33.

But it killed the offensive flow, especially late in the game. Mike Gorman and Brian Scalabrine were all over this during NBC Sports Boston's broadcast, and in much the same way the Celtics dared Miami to make 3's, the Heat baited the Celtics into slowing their offense and hunting Herro.

That can happen here and there, but it can't be the primary focus. The Celtics should learn from this one.

Concern level: 1

5. Bam Adebayo

It's impressive to watch the 6-foot-9 Adebayo take the 7-foot-2 Porzingis into the post and then just casually shoot over him like he's a traffic cone. It feels like Adebayo is shooting 105 percent from anywhere in the lane against the Celtics the last two postseasons.

He was the stopper in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, making 4 of 5 shots to squelch any hope of a comeback. With Butler sidelined, he's the closest thing Miami has to an automatic bucket in crunch time, his fallaways reminiscent of former Celtics star Kevin Garnett.

Adebayo has long been a matchup nightmare for the Celtics, and we shouldn't expect that to change. Whether he's initiating the offense, posting up, or exploiting defensive lapses as an opportunistic rim runner, he's a handful, and unfortunately, that's not going to change.

It's enough to make you wonder if the Celtics should let him get his and focus on everyone else. It's not like he's going to score 40. Right?

Concern level: 4

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