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Kristaps Porzingis and Celtics Defense Return to Form in Game 3 Win

MIAMI — Kristaps Porziņģis in short order experienced his first Celtics playoff game, win, then a defeat and what he considered the worst performance with his new team. Worse, two off days followed an overall devastating letdown for Boston. They heard it all. Especially Porziņģis.

“It was a long two days,” he said to CLNS Media when asked. “Just the way it burns inside after a game like that, a loss like that … it really burned inside, I’m not going to lie.”

The Celtics, after a slow offensive start, bottled up all the feelings from Wednesday’s loss and funneled it toward one of their more disruptive defensive games all season. They won, 104-84, despite shooting 29.7% from three, missing six free throws and opening the first quarter with 21 points. They held the Heat to 12 the other way, and by the end of the night outscored Miami 24-4 in points off turnovers, forcing 12. Jrue Holiday and Jayson Tatum, combining to shoot 7-for-21, led the resurgent defensive effort while Jaylen Brown finished 11-for-16 following his 0-for-4 start.

Al Horford, in the second half, snuck a full court pass to Derrick White from baseline to baseline past all of the Heat’s defenders. White fed Brown at the basket for an uncontested two in the low point of a low-effort loss for the Heat where the Celtics took advantage of them in all the hustle categories. Particularly offensive rebounding, which they won 10-9.

The opening quarter eerily resembled Game 3 on offense as Brown attacked Tyler Herro without immediate success. A higher tempo eventually freed him for a 3-for-9 start while Boston’s defense held Miami’s offense to a 12-point opening frame, 5-for-21 shooting and a 1-for-9 efficiency from three where the Heat pulverized Boston’s defense three nights earlier. Still, it looked like Brown might shoot himself out of the game and Porziņģis exited after two early fouls. After trying an unsuccessful bench double-big unit with Luke Kornet for two minutes, the Celtics established full control early in their own end.

“It was a long two days until I got another opportunity and made some adjustments,” Porziņģis said. “I didn’t fall too much into their game of (being) physical all the time. That’s what they want me to do.”

That allowed for a 42-27 second quarter that blew the game open. Boston went to more pass-pass possessions and forced nine first half turnovers that sent them out in transition. Tatum and Sam Hauser opened the frame with back-to-back threes, forcing an Erik Spoelstra timeout one minute in.

“They were the more physical team,” Spoelstra said. “They bodied us, bullied us on screens, got through stuff, distorted screens, everything. Flattened us out after the first 6-7 minutes … they stayed at home a little bit more on the shooters.”

Boston returned to the floor with four players up in a press, and Hauser nearly stole the ensuing in-bounds from Haywood Highsmith. After building a 13-point lead midway through the quarter, Jrue Holiday, who finished the half +26 despite not taking a shot, tapped passes to White and Brown in the half court and fast break, respectively, for the first five points of a 7-0 run. White followed with the first of two put-backs, that vaulted him to 12 points over a three minute stretch late in the frame.

Mazzulla downplayed any concrete adjustments and sounded frustrated with the two days that preceded the win spent agonizing over the team’s performance. A stronger effort, he said, led to the defensive resurgence.

“(Adjustments) are such a trigger word this time of year,” Mazzulla said. “We didn’t make too many adjustments. We played a little bit harder, we played tougher and we dictated the physicality and the tempo of the game, the simple things that you have to do under a higher level of stress and a higher level of adversity. I thought our guys did a great job of dictating that.”

Boston led by 21 and finished the half with eight offensive rebounds, shooting 38.1% from three and winning the turnover battle 3-9. Porzingis and Payton Pritchard added three more put-backs to combine for 19 points after their scoring struggles in Game 2. Mazzulla credited the bench with maintaining the Celtics’ defensive posture.

The Heat responded with a 14-9 run into the third while Boston’s offense flattened again. Brown scored six of those points while the rest of the Celtics opened 1-for-5, Tatum taking the final shot of that stretch and falling down, missing a three that allowed Adebayo to streak in transition for an easy dunk, finishing a 10-2 run midway through the frame that cut Boston’s lead to 19. The Celtics answered 8-4 out of timeout with White involved in each play, finding Brown and Horford inside while hitting a layup and jump shot of his own.

The Heat fell behind by 26 after threes from Horford and Holiday out of timeout, while Herro tossed the ball off Hauser after Hauser committed a foul, picking up a technical. Pritchard shared words with Herro and Martin as the quarter came to an end, Miami going to Thomas Bryant and Patty Mills deep off their bench looking for anything offensively.

Delon Wright did not play for personal reasons, further thinning a Heat lineup effectively down Jimmy Butler, Terry Rozier and Duncan Robinson, the latter barely able to appear in games. They stayed behind by 20 points throughout the fourth, Tatum and Brown maintaining pressure on the Heat inside the arc, scoring 22 points each while Porzingis reached 18 at the free throw line.

“Everyone knows how talented we are. Can we be the tougher, harder playing team?” Tatum said. “Can we start every game essentially punching first and not reacting? That’s the test for us.”

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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