4 Things to Watch Out for in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals

The Celtics say Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart will likely play in Game 2.

Heat vs Celtics: Complete Series Coverage

MIAMI — There was a lot to digest in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, a 118-107 victory for the Miami Heat. The Boston Celtics won three of the four quarters but were absolutely defeated in the third. And that was the difference as the Heat took the series lead 1-0.

Every game in a playoff series is different, but Game 1 sets the stage for the rest. Here are some notes, numbers, and movies to get you ready for Game 2 on Thursday (8:30 ET on ESPN) …

1. The status of Smart

Kyle Lowry (Miami), Al Horford (Boston) and Marcus Smart (Boston) lost Game 1 on Tuesday. For Game 2, Lowry is listed out and Horford is in doubt. But Smart is likely to make his series debut.

Kia’s Defensive Player of the Year will likely help the Celtics’ defense. The Heat’s 118 points on 97 possessions (121.6 per 100) on Tuesday was Boston’s worst defensive performance in the playoffs. And of the three teams the Celtics have faced, Miami has ranked lowest offensively in the regular season.

Smart’s return to the starting lineup would send Derrick White back to the bench and (likely) result in less playing time for Payton Pritchard, who played 30 minutes on Tuesday. Pritchard was criticized defensively in the fourth quarter of Game 1, when Gabe Vincent hit more balls (9) than any other game. full game in your career.

But Pritchard also offended the Celtics on Tuesday. Boston and Miami had 145 points from 121 possessions in those 30 minutes. White’s minutes were not so good at the Celtics’ end court and it will be interesting to see which of the two reserve guards has the most time in Game 2.


2. Smothered ball movement

The Celtics’ defense had an impact on Miami’s offense.

In the first two rounds, the Heat ranked fourth in the playoffs in ball movement, averaging 320 passes per 24 minutes of possession, according to Second Spectrum tracking. But his 231 passes (with 21.1 minutes of possession) in Game 1 were 20 fewer than any other game this season.

The Celtics defense will do that. They are (generally) switching ball screens, keeping Miami’s offense flat. They are also trying to deny the Heat’s dribbling actions…

Celtics Defense

In that play, Jayson Tatum prevented Gabe Vincent from receiving an early transfer from Bam Adebayo. After the initial attempt, Vincent turned and started another attempt in the opposite direction. But Tatum was ready. Adebayo was then able to pass the ball to Max Strus, but White was there and ended up forcing a turnover.

“They are a unique defensive team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said on Wednesday. “I think we’re going to have to fight for what we do, how we do it, and try to get to it more often. But that’s also why you have great players.”

In fact, one of the reasons the Heat scored efficiently despite a lack of ball movement on Tuesday was Jimmy Butler’s ability to pick up buckets and make it to the free-throw line. Tyler Herro was also able to place points on the board with minimal ball movement.

Tyler Herro Runner

This could be a series where the Heat need Butler and Herro to rescue more possessions than usual with their off-dribble attack.

“You get to this time of year,” Spoelstra said, “and you can have all the big plans to change a defense, move them and play them out of the game. It gets harder and harder with each round to be able to do that. [The Celtics] are so well educated and well trained and really competitive [with] two-way guys. You have to get what you can. And they’re probably saying the same thing.

“But we would like to try [play] the way we play all year, we have segments of the game where we can get to that. We saw this last night. You’re not going to get to that all the time and I think the balance we had was appropriate when it wasn’t a lot of that.

“You get to a lot of that and they’re very good. You’ve just seen the previous two rounds and the kind of offensive talent they were able to limit. It will take a real collective effort offensively.”


3. Not so alternate

In fact, the Celtics didn’t trade as much in Game 1 as they usually do. According to Second Spectrum, they turned on just 22 (27%) of Miami’s 81 ball screens in Game 1. That was the lowest change rate of the Celtics’ playoffs.

Robert Williams III (returning from a four-game absence) and Daniel Theis were primarily in “drop” coverage, allowing the Heat to jump into jumpers or gain advantages on the roll…

Bam Adebayo roll

The Celtics also engaged in some “blitz” coverage, but that didn’t work out well, with Dewayne Dedmon getting a dunk, because Jaylen Brown couldn’t turn down the weak side (see Grant Williams’ reaction below)…

Buried Dewayne Dedmon

The numbers weren’t good for the Celtics, no matter what their pick-and-roll coverage was. But the drop numbers (1.35 points per chance) were worse than the swap numbers (1.17). And one of the first things to look at in Game 2 will be how Williams defends those ball screens in Miami’s first possessions.


4. Room for improvement

The Heat beat a great team by 11 points on Tuesday, but since they missed the first, second and fourth quarters, they know they can play better in Game 2. The Sixers averaged 34.3 restricted area points per game against Miami in the conference semifinals. The Celtics had nearly that (32) in the first half of Game 1.

And part of the issue was advocating transition. The Celtics even got a transition layup after a make across the court…

Celtics quick stop

The Heat also made some mistakes, like a miscommunication between Butler and PJ Tucker that led to an open 3 for Brown…

Jaylen Brown's 3-point attempt

But Miami also had some great half-court defense moments…

heat defense

We can probably expect more from the good defense than the poor defense of both teams in Game 2. And it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Heat’s performance on Tuesday is the most efficient game we’ve had of any team in this series.

* * *

John Schuhmann is a senior statistics analyst at NBA.com. You can email him here, find his file here, and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.