Could this stat be the key to a Celtics comeback vs. Heat in ECF? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
There’s plenty to nitpick about the Boston Celtics’ strategy in the Eastern Conference Finals to date.
Should Joe Mazzulla call more timeouts to neutralize the Miami Heat’s second-half surges? (Yes.) Do Robert Williams and Derrick White deserve more playing time in crunch time? (Probably.)
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But the reason Boston is in an 0-2 series hole entering Sunday’s Game 3 in Miami comes down to execution — more specifically, a lack of it in an area where the Celtics excelled during the regular season.
Here is Boston’s record during the 2023 postseason, sorted by 3-pointers made:
That’s right: Mazzulla’s club has yet to win a playoff game while hitting 12 or fewer threes. They mustered just 10 apiece in Games 1 and 2, shooting 34.5 percent and 28.9 percent, respectively, in back-to-back losses at TD Garden.
Those are surprising numbers considering the Celtics’ 3-point prowess during the regular season: They averaged 16 made 3-pointers per game, second in the NBA behind only the Golden State Warriors.
But this team has lived and died by the three all season: The C’s went 48-12 when eclipsing the 13 3-pointer mark and just 9-13 while falling short of that threshold.
Celtics’ win percentage with 13+ made threes (reg. season)
Celtics’ win percentage with 12 or fewer made threes
The Heat are well aware of this, of course, and have made a point of aggressively defending Boston on the perimeter. Jaylen Brown (2 for 13) and Al Horford (1 for 8) have been particularly brutal from beyond the arc through two games after combining for 25 made 3-pointers in Round 2 against the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Make more 3-pointers” seems like an obvious strategy, but there are buttons Mazzulla can push in Game 3, whether that’s giving Derrick White (6 for 10 from three in this series) more runs or drawing up plays that stretch Miami’s zone defense . If the C’s can’t make an adjustment, history suggests it may cost them their season.
Game 3 tips off at 8:30 pm ET at the Kaseya Center on Sunday, with NBC Sports Boston’s coverage beginning at 7:30 pm ET.