MIAMI – The Miami Heat became a member of the 40-40 club in the last week. … Surrendering two 40-plus point performances in two losses.
Portland’s Damian Lillard scored 49 on Sunday and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan dropped 40 on Miami four days later. Both games set back the Heat in their quest to grab one of the final playoff spots in the East.
Now, the Heat (35-37) continue that quest Sunday in Boston where they face a player who topped both Lillard and DeRozan this season. The Celtics Isaiah Thomas owns the season opponent high against Miami, totaling his career-high of 52 points – 29 of those coming in the fourth quarter – in late December in Boston, the last time these teams met.
The 5-foot-9 Thomas was 15-of-26, including 9-of-13 on threes, and converted all 13 of his free throws.
“We need to contest his shots,” said Heat guard Goran Dragic, who did not play in the game because of back spasms.
“He’s going to shoot enough shots to score his average but just try to make it tough on him and (defend) the pick-and-roll. He likes to shoot behind the screens. Just stay in front of him. It’s easy to say but as long as we play team defense we can manage.”
Thomas is third in the league with a 29.1 average and has the Celtics (47-26) second in the East, one game behind Cleveland. In 13 career games he is averaging 21.8 points against Miami, tied for second only behind his 23.6 average against Philadelphia. He has 100 points against the Heat in three games this season.
Lillard hurt the Heat coming off pick-and-rolls while DeRozan is more of an isolation shooter and one of better players in the league making tough, contested shots.
Thomas is more like Lillard, especially when it comes to shooting 3 pointers.
“You just try not to let him get into a rhythm, you try not to let him get too comfortable,” guard Josh Richardson said. “He likes to shoot threes off ball screens so you got to be up on the ball screen. I don’t think we did a great job of that last time.”
The Celtics, though, have more ways to hurt you than Portland or Toronto did this past week, especially when the Raptors are without Kyle Lowry or Serge Ibaka.
Boston is 3-0 against Miami this season. Jae Crowder had 17 the win in Miami in November, Al Horford scored 20 a few weeks later in Miami and Horford was the only other Celtics player in double figures with 21 when Thomas scored 52.
“They’re not a one man team,” Spoelstra said. “You have to play a lot of different actions, a lot of skill, they move the ball, they space the floor. It’s not as if you can just focus on Isaiah Thomas and that’s the challenge. It’s a different challenge.”
The Heat are catching the Celtics two nights after the Suns’ Devin Booker scored 70 points in a loss at Boston, the most ever against a franchise that has been around since 1946-47.
Booker was 21-of-40 and just 3-of-11 on 3 pointers. He went to the line 26 times, making 24.
The Heat held Booker to 11 points on Tuesday, their lone win of the week and the game between Portland and Toronto.
“Isn’t this the fun time of the year right now?” Spoelstra said. “Crazy stuff happening every single night.”
Dragic, though, was not impressed.
“They still lost,” he said about the Suns. “I don’t care how much I score as long as we win the game.”