MIAMI – The Miami Heat dug too deep a hole against the Celtics in the first quarter Sunday and spend the rest of the game trying to recover.
Miami came within four points late but could not get any closer as Boston held on for a 105-95 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.
A Tyler Johnson free throw with 1:48 remaining made the score 97-93. Boston’s Al Horford scored the next five points to end Miami’s hopes of a comeback.
The Heat (9-19) shot 52.2 percent but offset that with 23 turnovers. Miami, though, was 9-of-24 on three pointers.
Goran Dragic paced the Heat with 31 points. Hassan Whiteside had 23 points and 17 rebounds.
“What really hurt us, every time we had an opportunity we coughed it up,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Right when the momentum would shift we’d have a turnover. That was one of our most inefficient games of the season.”
Here are our five takeaways.
No energy early: For the most part this year, regardless of the opponent and the outcome, the Heat have played hard. But Sunday the Heat lacked energy early and it cost them. Boston jumped to a 22-point lead early in the second quarter by shooting 67 percent. The Heat were caught standing around several times, once when two players were arguing a ball went off Boston as the Celtics were racing down the court for an uncontested dunk. The Heat got back in the game in the third quarter outscoring Boston, 30-19, while holding the Celtics to 24 percent field goal percentage.
“It doesn’t mean nothing, we still lost,” Dragic said. “We need to come out and be ready. Two games in a row we played really bad in the first half and then it’s hard to come back. Our defense was really bad in the first half. We came back in the third quarter and played really good defense. We need to play 48 minutes.
Still a rivalry: The Heat and Celtics have had some classic games when both were competing for the Eastern Conference crown. And even though Boston clearly has the upper hand this season, the two still play tough, physical games in which blood is shed. Justise Winslow received “four or five” stitches under his right eye following the game from a play in which he was hit by an Isaiah Thomas elbow with 3:02 remaining. Thomas was called for a Flagrant 2 foul, which is an automatic ejection. Later, Winslow got fouled going up for a layup but he was whistled for a technical foul for an unnatural act. Winslow, though, downplayed both incidents.
“It wasn’t excessive,” he said about Thomas’ elbow. “He didn’t mean to hurt me. It was a basketball play. Heat of the moment. I said things, they said things. But no one’s out there trying to hurt nobody. It’s just part of the game. Those guys, they’re a good team, well-coached team, that’s what happens in the heat of the moment, people are competing. Trash talking is part of the game. I don’t buy too much into it.”
The Big Two: Whiteside and Dragic carried the Heat. They combined for 54 points on 21-of-34 shooting. The rest of the team was 15-of-35 from the floor with nobody else in double figures. Whiteside and Dragic had 26 points combined at the half. No other Heat player had more than five. Dragic’s 31 points were his second most as a member of the Heat, topped only by his 34 last Monday against Washington.
“I would have been curious to see what the game would have looked like if we were in our normal wheel house of 12-14 turnovers,” Spoelstra said.
Free throw woes can no longer be ignored: The Heat entered the game as the worst free throw shooting team in the league (.667) and once again lost a close game while struggling from the line. Miami was an inexcusable 14-of-25 (56 percent) from the line, including missing three in the final two minutes. Winslow even got into the act, missing half of his eight attempts, including both with two minutes remaining after Thomas’ Flagrant 2 foul. Whiteside was 5-of-9 from the line.
“We just got to make free throws,” Winslow said. “No one’s guarding you. Me, my teammates we just got to make free throws. There’s not anything super complicated about it. Just make your free throws.”
Still can salvage home stand: The Heat are 2-2 on this season-long six-game home stand, losing to the two best teams they will face, the Clippers and Celtics. Miami still has a chance to feel good coming out of the home stand with games remaining against Orlando and the Lakers, two sub-.500 teams sitting in fourth place in their divisions. Miami defeated the Magic in Orlando in the season opener and the Lakers, who have lost 9-of-10, will be playing the sixth game of a seven-game road trip.