What Celtics proved to rest of East with win over Heat

Nick Friar
January 29, 2020 - 6:45 am

The Celtics entered Tuesday’s game with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. After their 109-101 win over the Heat, Boston still has the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)

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But the Celtics proved on Tuesday they are better than their current ranking indicates.

Sure, the Heat were on the second day of a back-to-back. But it was a home-and-home. Not easy, but still no traveling involved.

Actually, Miami hasn’t played on the road since January 19. Almost a week and a half at home, while the Celtics have been working their way through a three-game road trip.

Furthermore, the Heat do not lose at home. Well, they don’t usually.

Tuesday’s game is only the third one the Heat have lost out of the 24 they’ve played in their own building in 2019-20. The Rockets, Jazz, Pacers, Raptors and Sixers have each made the trip to Miami and left with a loss.

Both Los Angeles teams, and now the Celtics, are the only ones who’ve knocked off the Heat at America Airlines Arena this year. (The Bucks have not made the trip yet.)

“We knew this was going to be hard,” Brad Stevens told reporters. “They’re a really good team.”

And the Celtics joined this select group without the help of Jayson Tatum or Enes Kanter (or Robert Williams, as Gordon Hayward made sure to mention after the win).

Kemba Walker hit some important shots. Marcus Smart made some big plays late — to help make up for his rough shooting night. Reserves had their moments.

But Tuesday’s win was particularly important for three guys: Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis.

With Hayward and Brown, it’s pretty clear. They led the team in scoring, finishing with 29 and 25 points, Hayward having the edge. And they were efficient, finishing 20-for-30 from the floor, combined.

Not only did they score at high rate, both were also vital in breaking down Miami’s tough zone defense.

“It’s a tough zone,” Hayward said. “They do a good job of … it’s a different type of zone.

“Their big guys are up. It’s a little bit different than most zones, so sometimes it’s hard to see. And they make you kind of hold the ball out at the top.”

Now, Hayward and Brown were in the same boat as everyone else in the second quarter. But, they combined for 17 points in the third on 7-for-10 shooting, while Smart and Walker (three points, 1-for-9) struggled.

As for Theis, he did not have an easy matchup with Bam Adebayo in the paint. The Miami forward should make this year’s All-Star Game as a reserve, which could also be the case with Jimmy Butler, who was wreaking havoc inside, as well

They got Theis in foul trouble, but he still finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks — and he was impactful on the defensive end beyond those two blocked shots.

The Celtics have put together some quality wins recently and are playing like they’re one of the two best teams in the East, Milwaukee being the other. Whether or not that’s the case will be tested again on Saturday — when Philly visits.

Related: Kemba Walker considering changing his number to honor Kobe Bryant