The Celtics second unit did not make things easy on Brad Stevens Monday night. Actually, you could replace Monday night with this season and that sentence would probably work. What was supposed to be one of the biggest strengths on Boston’s roster has been inconsistent for much of the year, and they seemed poised to put a C’s win in jeopardy yet again against a mediocre but feisty Heat squad.
After the reserves blew much of a 12-point lead in the first half, they were poised to do so again midway through the third quarter, the usual time when Stevens (and most coaches) bring in the first wave of subs. Boston’s starters had rebuilt much of that early lead with a 17-6 run to break open a tie game at halftime, but the keys were going to be handed to a struggling Gordon Hayward and company in short order, at least that’s what Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra likely believed when he called timeout with six minutes remaining.
To try to get back into the game after the timeout, Spoelstra turned to a 2-3 zone, a look that Miami has leaned on a lot throughout the year to allow them to get away with playing smaller lineups. Boston has had their struggles with this look throughout this season, largely due to a spacing issue with the bench unit. Hayward, Brown and Rozier had all been awful shooting the ball in the first half on Monday night and Spoelstra likely wanted to bait those guys into tough outside shots.
This strategy has worked in past games for the Heat in Boston (like last year), but Stevens was ready for it this time. He answered with a simple but almost perfect counter that won the Celtics the game on Monday night: