Miami Herald (Sunday)

Heat out to avenge ‘humbling’ loss to Celtics

- BY ANTHONY CHIANG achiang@miamiheral­ Anthony Chiang: 305-376-4991, @Anthony_Chiang

The Boston Celtics’ last trip to Miami produced one of the best offensive performanc­es in NBA history. On the other side of that epic night for the Celtics was one of the worst defensive displays in Miami Heat history.

“That was a very humbling night,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said following Saturday’s morning practice at Kaseya Center.

“That wasn’t us,” Heat veteran Kevin Love said.

The Celtics totaled 143 points on 63.8 percent shooting from the field, 22-of-40 (55 percent) shooting from three-point range and 19-of-20 (95 percent) shooting from the foul line, becoming just the third team in NBA history to hit all those marks in a game on their way to a 143-110 blowout win over the Heat on Jan. 25 at Kaseya Center. It marked the third-most points the Heat has allowed in any game in franchise history.

On top of all that, the Heat allowed 149 points per 100 possession­s in the loss for its worst singlegame defensive rating since at least the 1996-97 season.

But less than three weeks after that defensive debacle, the Heat will have an opportunit­y for revenge when it hosts the ultra-talented Celtics on Sunday (2 p.m., ABC) to close its four-game homestand. The Celtics hold the NBA’s best record at 40-12 this season, entering Saturday with the NBA’s second-best offensive rating and third-best defensive rating.

“Definitely a good barometer,” Love said. “Probably been the best team all year. Really shot it well here. But certainly on our home floor, we want to have a better showing, make it be super competitiv­e and try to get a win here at home.”

The 33-point loss to the Celtics was the Heat’s fifth straight defeat during a seven-game skid and its longest losing streak since the 2007-08 season. The Heat posted an awful defensive rating of 124.2 points allowed per 100 possession­s during that streak, fourth-worst in the NBA during that stretch.

But since that skid, the Heat has won four of its past five games behind its defense.

The Heat’s defense has returned to form, allowing just 103.9 points per 100 possession­s in the past five games for the NBA’s second-best defensive rating during this span.

“Quite a bit,” Spoelstra said when asked how much the Heat has improved since the Celtics loss. “We had to, obviously, address some things. Get on the same page, and sometimes that happens from being humbled.”

Some may point to the fact that the Heat has faced just one top-10 offense (Los Angeles Clippers) and three bottom-10 offenses (Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs) in the past five games. But the Heat will get a chance to prove its defensive turnaround is real against the Celtics on Sunday.

Whether it’s zone or man, the Heat’s defense has been much better at containing the ball and allowing fewer blow-by drives on the perimeter. That’s helped to limit opponents to an NBA-low 14.2 shots from within the restricted area per game during this 4-1 stretch after opponents generated 23.3 shots at the rim per game during the sevengame skid.

With those recent positive results, the Heat’s defense is again a top-10 unit. Miami entered Saturday with the NBA’s ninth-ranked defensive rating this season.

“We’ve made a lot of improvemen­ts, a lot of adjustment­s and a lot of commitment to certain things on our end,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said of the defensive surge. “So I feel like we’re a different team than we were back then.”

Back then was less than a month ago. But the Heat feels like a lot has changed — for the better— in a short time, and coaches and players will look to prove it on Sunday.


Yes, guard Alondes Williams is averaging

20.3 points per game and has already scored 55 points and 42 points with the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, this season.

But it’s the developmen­t of other areas of Williams’ game that earned him a two-way contract from the Heat. The news of Williams’ two-way deal was announced Friday night.

“It was more about the overall developmen­t,” Spoelstra said Saturday. “I think it’s easy to point to some big scoring games. That was really down the list for us. Sure, it’s great that he was able to have those kinds of nights. But it was really about previously playing the role, defending and doing a lot of intangible­s and impacting winning while the rest of his game was improving.”

The 24-year-old Williams, who went undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2022, has averaged 5.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 49.9 percent from the field and 37.3 percent on threes this season. He was named a G League All-Star and also was selected to take part in the Rising Stars Game during NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapol­is next week.

“He earned [the twoway contract],” Spoelstra said. “He was extremely coachable, he’s been coachable, he’s had a great positive approach there in Sioux Falls. You’re happy to reward someone like that.”

The Heat released guard RJ Hampton from his two-way contract to create the opening for Williams.

“On the flip side, you also feel bad for RJ,” Spoelstra said. “He put in a lot of time and he also got better. Some of this is circumstan­tial, and the injury and the missed time for RJ at the beginning of the season was tough for him. But he will have an opportunit­y, if he chooses, to come back to Sioux

Falls and we’ll see what he decides.”


The Heat listed Jimmy Butler (personal reasons) as questionab­le for Sunday’s game against the Celtics.

Butler missed practice on Friday and Saturday with excused absences.

Dru Smith (seasonendi­ng knee surgery), Cole Swider (G League) and Williams (G League) have been ruled out for Sunday.

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