The Celtics jumped ahead quickly against the Heat on Thursday and never looked back, surging past their Eastern Conference rivals 143-110.
Here are the takeaways.
1. That was a beatdown.
The Heat were without standout rookie Jaime Jacquez Jr., as well as Kevin Love, but they were also without only-in-last-year’s-playoffs superstar Gabe Vincent (who now plays for the Lakers) as well as only-in-last-year’s-playoffs superstar Caleb Martin (who still plays for the Heat and got 21 minutes on Thursday but was 2-for-12 and has clearly regressed back to “not a superstar”).
Apart from that, the Heat were all present and accounted for, and the Celtics were better by a mile. Kristaps Porzingis burned them from 3-point range repeatedly in the first quarter. Jaylen Brown turned the ball over three times (his biggest issue against the Heat), but he also finished with 18 efficient points as well as five assists and three steals. The Heat had no answers for Jayson Tatum, who got to the free-throw line 10 times and scored a team-high 26 points. The Celtics were piping hot from three (22-for-40, 55%), and the Heat did absolutely nothing to disrupt their rhythm.
The Heat are still coached by Erik Spoelstra, and they still employ Jimmy Butler, so they would likely be dangerous in a playoff series. The Heat as a rule, though, don’t seem particularly interested in the regular season (which nearly cost them a spot in the postseason last year), and they have now lost their last five games.
But the Celtics are a much steadier, tougher, better team than the group that bowed out in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and they gave everyone watching TNT on Thursday a stark reminder of that fact.
2. Kristaps Porzingis turned his ankle in the third quarter in a moment that caused every Boston fan watching to gasp, and he hobbled to the locker room (although not before Jayson Tatum cashed in a 3-pointer playing 4-on-5 against the porous Heat defense). Porzingis didn’t return, but he did tell reporters after the game that his ankle felt better.
If Porzingis is fine, the Celtics will certainly be happy to have him back. Still, they really have no need to rush him; Al Horford is unquestionably still a starting-caliber player and can fill in as long as Porzingis needs, and Luke Kornet (who we will get to) has been something close to a revelation as a role player off the bench. Neemias Queta has shown flashes as the team’s third big — by no means perfect, but plenty good enough to fill in some necessary gaps.
There’s no reason to hold Porzingis out if he’s truly feeling good over the weekend, but there’s also absolutely no reason to push it if his ankle is in any way shaky. His health is too important to the Celtics’ playoff hopes.
3. All five Celtics starters scored in double figures. All five hit three or more 3-pointers. Aside from Tatum (32:12), none played more than 30 minutes. It’s difficult to imagine a more successful, efficient business trip to South Beach.
4. Prior to the game, Tatum was named to his fifth All-Star game, and his fourth as a starter.
Tatum is, of course, a no-brainer — the best player on the best team in the league to date. His counting stats aren’t quite as gaudy this year as last year, but 27 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.4 assists certainly make him deserving, given his other circumstances. He should also comfortably make the All-NBA First Team at the end of the year.
Jaylen Brown is projected to be shoe-in for a second All-Star slot. On the TNT broadcast, Reggie Miller vociferously made the case that Derrick White should make it as well, citing White’s breakout season as well as the Celtics’ record. Pre-empting the obvious question about who to then leave out, the broadcast later posted Miller’s ballot. The answer? Trae Young, who is averaging 26.9 points and 10.8 assists.
The take here: Miller is right that White is having a better season than Young, whose Hawks are 18-26 and clinging to the final spot in the play-in tournament if the season ended today. Still, it’s hard to imagine that a 27-point-11-assist-per-game player will be left off the All-Star team to put a third player from a team in the game when the third player is averaging just 16 points per game. Counting stats are still king.
That said, there’s no simpler counting stat than “Does your team outscore the opponent with you on the floor?” Derrick White is first in the NBA in plus/minus at +9.1. Trae Young is 406th at -2.4. Again: We certainly don’t think Reggie is wrong.
White scored 15 points, six rebounds and six assists on Thursday, incidentally. He was +24.
5. Jrue Holiday was a hyper-efficient 7-for-8 from the field, scoring 17 points. His first three baskets were all a result of a collapsing Heat defense that couldn’t recover out to defend him, but he also hit both Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin with nasty turnaround jumpers in the second half, the latter of which left Martin stumbling backward as Holiday swished a jumper with the shot clock expiring.
Porzingis is a huge addition for the Celtics in the matchup against the Heat, but Holiday is a big one too.
6. The Heat were essentially fully cooked by the end of the third quarter, but Kornet added the garnishes with a six-point flurry in less than two minutes that showed how broken Miami’s defense was. On three different possessions, he got behind the defense and nobody bothered to rotate over, all resulting in dunks (two were assisted by Brown, and one by Holiday). In the fourth, Kornet threw down a final dunk for good measure off a lob by Payton Pritchard.
Kornet finished with 12 points and five rebounds. He was perfect from the field and at the free-throw line, going 4-for-4 from both.
7. Rookie Jordan Walsh entered the game late in the fourth quarter, but he didn’t score, so he still doesn’t have an NBA field goal. Credit to the rookie, however: on the Celtics’ final real possession of the game, Lamar Stevens drove and dished to him on the wing. Walsh could have forced a 3-pointer but instead he made the right basketball play, dishing to Svi Mykhailiuk who buried a wide-open triple.
The game, of course, had been decided for more than 12 minutes of basketball time, but Walsh still got in the box score with an assist and deserves some kudos for being unselfish.
8. The Celtics wrap up their road trip 3-0 after a shaky win over the Rockets and two sturdy wins over the Mavericks and Heat. They will return to TD Garden at 7 p.m. on Saturday for a game against the Clippers, who have won eight of their last 10 and are fourth in the Western Conference at 28-14.
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com