In an early season battle between two of the most consistent Eastern Conference organizations in recent memory, the Boston Celtics pulled off a confidence-building 119-111 win over the Miami Heat.
The Heat, who have made it to the NBA Finals in two of the past four seasons, eliminated the Celtics in seven games last May in the Eastern Conference Finals. This loss to Miami prompted Boston’s front office to make major changes this past summer–showing a crucial sense of awareness that they cannot waste any opportunity to compete for an NBA championship with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown now entering their prime years.
The Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations and former head coach Brad Stevens swung for the fences with a pair of blockbuster deals during the offseason, acquiring five-time All-NBA Defensive Team member Jrue Holiday and one-time NBA All-Star Kristaps Porzingis.
These two players did come at a steep cost to Boston though as they had to part with last year’s starting point guard Marcus Smart, reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, and their defensive specialist Robert Williams III.
This left the Celtics with a top-heavy roster featuring six proven pieces in Tatum, Brown, Holiday, Porzingis, Al Horford, and Derrick White. The belief was that this would not be a problem in the long run as coaches do tend to prefer shorter rotations of six to seven players once the playoffs come around.
While it was just the second game of the regular season for both teams, the TD Garden had a playoff atmosphere and these two teams responded with a postseason-level performance. The Heat built an early 13-point lead in the first quarter, yet the Celtics responded with resilience and closed the opening half with a five-point edge.
Neither team led by more than eight over the second half of play and Miami pulled within three points off a three-pointer from Kevin Love with less than a minute remaining in the match. However, White sank two free throws on the ensuing possession to bring Boston’s lead back up to a more comfortable five points with 47 seconds left to play which was enough of a cushion for them to seal the victory.
White was often the only player on the floor for Boston without an NBA All-Star appearance to his name, yet he shined the brightest for them in their first acid test of the season. The 29-year-old guard proved to everyone why he has become a role model for other players in the league, putting up 28 points on an efficient nine-of-16 field goals. He also had six rebounds, three assists, one steal, and three blocks in 36 minutes.
The seven-year NBA veteran is poised to play his biggest role to date this season and it looks like he is more than ready to take on the challenge.
As expected, the Celtics’ head coach Joe Mazulla relied heavily on his “Starting Six” who all saw between 24 (Horford) and 41 (Tatum) minutes of action. The three other players that Mazulla fielded–Oshae Brissett, Payton Pritchard, and Sam Hauser–combined for just 47 minutes on the court.
The impact of having Holiday on the floor was felt significantly in this game as he provided them with a steady two-way presence from the point guard spot that they have never truly had in recent years. The two-time NBA All-Star finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, one block, and only one turnover in 36 minutes.
Holiday’s highlight of the evening came with 70 seconds remaining in the fourth period where he calmly hit a mid range jumper that gave Boston a six-point lead. This shot helped them stave off the Heat’s late rally and the luxury of having a veteran like Holiday on the floor should come in handy when more tight moments such as this one come about.
Moving forward, it will be crucial that at least one of Brissett, Pritchard, or Hauser can become consistent contributors for them to help share the load of the grueling regular season.
Though it is still too early to draw definite conclusions from this win, it is nonetheless an early indication that the Celtics are onto something with this roster–especially when considering the depth of their rivalry with this Miami group. It remains to be seen if this move will pan out for Boston and ultimately lead to their franchise’s 18th NBA title, but, at the very least, this victory against Miami is a sign that they are headed in the right direction.