Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has been a step ahead of the Boston Celtics and he utilized a 2-3 zone in the first two games to neutralize Boston’s perimeter players and keep Kemba Walker in check. Thus far, a 2-3 zone defense worked for Miami and attributed to a 2-0 series lead by the Heat.

Miami Heat Boston Celtics 2-3 zone East Finals
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart reacts to another loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. (Image: Mark J. Terrill/AP)

The Miami Heat rallied back from double-digit deficits in both games to hold on for a win.

The Boston Celtics dropped Game 1 by three points in overtime 117-114. In Game 2, Boston went cold in the second half while they struggled against Miami to come up with a proper way to bust the 2-3 zone in a 106-101 loss. The Heat outscored the Celtics 37-17 in the third quarter to erase a 13-point halftime deficit.

“We like being down double-digits and being the comeback kids,” explained Miami’s Jimmy Butler.

#5 Miami Heat (2-0) vs #3 Boston Celtics (0-2)
  • Tip-off: 5:30pm PT
  • Point Spread: BOS -2.5
  • Total: 207.5 o/u
  • Money Line: MIA +130 / BOS -145

DraftKings updated their NBA futures and the Miami Heat are +375 odds to win the championship, while the Boston Celtics are +1100 to win the title.

The Heat are -360 odds to win the series, according to DraftKings series winner prop bets. The Celtics +270 odds to pull off the comeback and advance to the NBA Finals.

Spo’s 2-3 Zone

Erik Spoelstra did his homework and took inspiration from the Raptors’ defensive playbook. Nick Nurse and the Toronto Raptors used a variety of zone defenses, including a throw-back box-and-1, to keep Kemba Walker in check in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The Heat did not play zone at all in the postseason, nor during the final regular season games in the restart bubble. In Game 1, the Heat introduced their version of a 2-3 zone with Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder playing the “2” top part of the zone. Bam Adebayo anchored the back of the zone. In Game 1, the Heat matched up in a 2-3 zone defense for 12 possessions.

In Game 2, Miami set up in a 2-3 zone for 30 possessions. They held the Celtics to only 17 points in the third quarter.

“A lot of teams aren’t used to it,” said Duncan Robinson. “Not a lot of NBA teams play it and then also we kind of do it in an unorthodox way.”

Goran Dragic led all scorers with 25 points. Bam Adebayo added 24 points and 10 rebounds. Jimmy Butler only scored 14 points, but he played a pivotal role on top on defense to help shut down Walker and Boston’s other sharpshooters.

“We got grit,” said Adebayo. “That’s about all I can tell you. We got grit, bruh.”

The Heat have so many different ways to beat you, but the deadly combo of Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro has posed problems to everyone the Heat faced in the postseason. They combined for 27 points in Game 2.

Robinson scored 18 points on 6-for-12 from 3-point land. Tyler Herro added 11 points off the bench, despite a bad night from downtown (1-for-8).

Frustrated Celtics

Emotions bubbled over and erupted in the locker room after Game 2. Beat reporters heard crashing noises behind closed doors. That’s actually a good thing because it shows that the Celtics care about losing two close games. I’d be more worried if the team didn’t respond and quietly imploded (e.g. LA Clippers in Western Conference Semifinals).

“It’s nothing,” shrugged Kemba Walker, who knows how to clam up to the press.

“We’re frustrated,” explained Tatum. “But that’s team sports. Not supposed to be happy we’re down 0-2. But that’s nothing out of the ordinary. Just talking about the game. It’s cool.”

“We pulled apart and we didn’t play well,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

Walker scored a team-high 23 points, but shot 4-for-11 from 3-point range. Tatum and Jaylen Brown added 21 points in the loss.

Tatum, Walker, Marcus Smart, and Daniel Theis combined 6-for-20 from 3-point range, or just 30% against the 2-3 zone.

“It’s a hard zone to play against,” said Stevens. “You have to present a threat at the rim and make the guy in the middle play multiple guys, shrink the bottom in.”

In the first half of Game 2, the Celtics did a strong job at attacking Miami’s zone weaknesses (it’s always the middle). However, in the second half, the Heat plugged the gaps in their 2-3 zone and the Celtics struggled. The Heat also unleashed a 3/4-court press in a 2-2-1 set up, which they’d collapse into a 2-3 zone once the Celtics dribbled over the half-court line.

Stevens is a savvy coach, so if anyone can figure out how to consistently bust Miami’s zone, it’s him.

“We’re not beating this team if we’re not completely connected on both ends of the court,” added Stevens.