Inside story: A raw and real halftime has Heat up 2-0 on fuming Celtics in NBA East finals

©Sun Sentinel

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images North America/TNS

The thermostat of the NBA playoffs comes with ample amounts of steam, perhaps even more when a four-month delay pushes the postseason into the dead of summer.

That often can make the timing of the venting as critical as anything that transpires in the decisive closing minutes.

For the Boston Celtics, the airing of grievances came too late, after they lost, 106-101, Thursday night, now left to simmer until Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. Game 3 of these best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.

For the Miami Heat, the temperature check came at halftime of Thursday’s game, allowing them to turn a 17-point deficit into the commanding series lead, now 10-1 this postseason and six victories from the franchise’s fourth NBA title.

“We definitely had some direct, forceful conversation,” guard Duncan Robinson said of the scene in the Heat locker room when down 60-47 at Thursday’s intermission. “It wasn’t necessarily emotional, as in bad. But obviously you’re in a battle like this, winning comes with emotion, or trying to win comes with emotion.

“We really tried to be direct as possible, us among the players, and obviously Spo (coach Erik Spoelstra) to us, as well, about what we needed to adjust.”

That left the Heat with 24 minutes to make things right.

Which they did — outscoring the Celtics 37-17 in the third quarter and riding the momentum from there.

“At halftime, we didn’t panic, and we didn’t talk about our offense, if I’m honest,” guard Goran Dragic said. “We talked about our defense. Our defense was terrible in the first half. It was just too easy for them. Our main concern was defense. At halftime, we talked only about that.

“Our communication is the key. We don’t shortcut. We tell straight to the face of our teammates or to coaches. And from there, it’s no grudges. It’s nothing personal. We just want to win those games and try to compete and play better.”

By living in the moment, as real and raw as it might be, it has allowed the Heat to attack adversity in real time.

Thursday’s 17-point comeback, which tied the largest in franchise postseason history, came after the Heat rallied from 14 down in their Tuesday 117-114 Game 1 overtime victory.

The Celtics, by contrast, fumed in the wake of Thursday’s loss, venting audible to those beyond the confines of their locker room at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex, a setting with limited crowd noise amid the quarantine setting necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re not beating this team if we’re not completely connected on both ends of the court,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “So, got to get back to being that, which we’ve been at times. But right now, they’re a better team.”

For the Heat, the rallying cries have been constant, but also timely. In eliminating the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in the previous round, the Heat rallied from deficits of 13, 14 and 11 points.

“We get down at times,” forward Jimmy Butler said, “but we never hang our heads, because we know if we play the right way, we give ourselves a chance to win.”

Butler said because it can be so real and raw without getting disparaging, it allows the Heat to adjust in the moment.

“We look each other in the eye and tell each other when it’s B.S.” he said. “Spo is going to do it. I’m going to do it. Jae (Crowder) is going to do it. Tyler (Herro) is going to do it. Duncan … all the way down the line. Because it’s unacceptable. We know when we’re not playing the way that we’re supposed to be playing.

“And as bad as it sounds, it’s like a switch. It just turns on, and, oh, there we go right there. I’m telling you, straight-face communication, move on and get it done.”

With the teams’ fan bases eliminated from the equation in the neutral-court setting, center Bam Adebayo said the strength has to be drawn from within the team, in moments such as those during Thursday’s halftime.

“You don’t got the crowd and you don’t got a lot of family, and you’ve got your team,” he said. “So your team brings that energy, you bring that energy, and that’s how we — that’s how we truly win, man.

“I feel like I said it from the beginning; I feel like the Miami Heat are built for the bubble.”

———

©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)