Sunday afternoon represented the first of the Celtics’ two biggest games of the season. Fighting to climb out of the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and avoid the play-in tournament, the C’s played the first game of a back-to-back against the Miami Heat, who held the sixth seed and were one game ahead of them in the standings.
Despite the stakes, the Celtics weren’t able to rise to the occasion, losing 130-124. After falling behind big early on, Boston attempted to mount a comeback, but ran out of time as their momentum finally started to build.
Early on, it was the Heat setting the tempo. Miami hardly missed in the first quarter, they were 13-of-23 shooting from the floor, and 6-of-13 from three. The Celtics weren’t quite cold – Aaron Nesmith had nine first quarter points off the bench – but they found themselves in a 36-23 hole heading into the second.
The Celtics’ defensive woes didn’t go away in the second quarter. Miami shot 15-of-20, allowing 43 points. In total, the Celtics allowed 79 first-half points, the most they’ve allowed in a first half since 1963. Heading into the locker room, they trailed 79-53.
Showing some fight to start the second half, the Celtics put together an early 20-8 run, which cut the Heat lead to 12. However, Miami didn’t go down quietly, and closed the quarter with a 10-4 run of their own, regaining their comfortable advantage. Heading into the final quarter, the Celtics trailed 105-84.
Just like in the third, the Celtics came out strong to start the fourth. They opened the quarter with an 8-0 run, getting within 11 points of the Heat. That turned into a 19-6 run, which finally closed the gap to 10 points with six minutes to play.
30 seconds later, an Evan Fournier steal led to a Jayson Tatum transition layup bringing the C’s within single digits for the first time since the opening minutes of the game. They’d get within six, but couldn’t complete the comeback as time ran out.
Fournier led the way for the Celtics with a game-high 30 points to go along with eight rebounds. Tatum followed him with 29, most of which came in the second half. Kemba Walker contributed 18, while Marcus Smart and Aaron Nesmith each added 16.
Jimmy Butler put together a double double for Miami, with 26 points and 11 assists. Bam Adebayo proved to be a problem for the Celtics as well, he scored 20 points and got to the free throw line 11 times, hitting 10.
With the loss the Celtics fall to 35-33, putting them two games behind Miami for the all-important sixth seed. Tuesday’s game will determine the tiebreaker if the two finish the season with the same record. Looking down the standings, the Celtics are now a game ahead of the Charlotte Hornets for the eighth seed.
The teams will meet again Tuesday night at TD Garden, tipping off at 7:30 p.m.. Pregame coverage begins at 7:00 on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.