Miami Heat are in the zone in East finals matchup vs Boston Celtics
WASHINGTON - The Miami Heat picked the right time to put their zone defense to use.
The Heat has used their zone to erase double-digit deficits and win the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, who have looked flustered at times.
In Tuesday's opener, Miami trailed by 14 points in the fourth quarter but rallied for a 117-114 overtime victory. On Thursday, the Heat were down 17 in the second period but used their zone almost exclusively after halftime in a 106-101 win.
"We like to make it hard on ourselves. We like to be down double digits and being the comeback kids," All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler joked.
The Heat used a zone frequently during the season but hadn't in the postseason until this series. They play an unconventional 2-3 with their lengthy forwards at the top and All-Star centre Bam Adebayo protecting the rim.
"Boston was really getting us on our heels in the first half," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I dont think anyone was in any kind of rhythm or disposition defensively. A lot of it was them. I think Bam really set the tone in that second half along with Jae [Crowder]."
Miami outscored Boston, 37-17, in the third quarter to take the lead. Butler had a pair of late steals leading to buckets that held off the Celtics.
Spoelstra thought changing attitude was more important than changing defense.
"Everyone wants to talk about schemes, but for us it's disposition, it's effort, making tough plays, making multiple efforts regardless of the scheme and we were more committed there in the second half," he said.
NO SURPRISES: Serbian All-Star centre Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets feels like the Los Angeles Clippers may have taken his team lightly. He is not expecting the same from the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nuggets are the first team in NBA history to erase 3-1 deficits twice in the same postseason and in the West finals for the first time since 2009 vs the top-seeded Lakers.
"They will not take us for granted," Jokic said. "We kind of surprised the Clippers. Probably they don't want to make that happen to them, so I think they're going to be really focused and really locked in."
Jokic had 16 points, 23 rebounds and 12 assists in Tuesday's clincher vs the Clippers, his fifth career postseason triple-double. His passing ability impresses Lakers superstar LeBron James.
"It's just infectious," James said. "When you have one of the best players on the team not really caring about himself at all for the better of the team, it sends a message to the rest of the group."