Be careful writing off the Boston Celtics. Our memories get short. The Celtics just took a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Raptors and barely hung on in seven games. The Denver Nuggets have rallied from two 3-1 deficits.

Boston had late leads in both Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. They need Game 3 more than the Miami Heat and should bring season-on-the-line desperation.

But the Heat are playing greedy. They didn’t need Game 3 of the last round as much as the Milwaukee Bucks did; they took it anyway. The Heat are 10-1 in the playoffs. They are relentless — steely in the face of big deficits, impossible to rattle.

Boston can make dozens of small tweaks, but they aren’t getting back into this series unless those tweaks add up to changing two basic things:

Figuring out Miami’s zone

The Heat’s zone is an ingenious, evolving creature. Miami has played 837 possessions of zone this season, almost double the No. 2 team, per Second Spectrum data. The Heat zone has an interesting backstory that hasn’t been fleshed out.

The Heat played only 48 possessions of zone in 2017-18, per Second Spectrum. They barely played it at all last season, until a Dec. 8 game against the LA Clippers when the Heat had only nine healthy players. Erik Spoelstra junked things up with a zone. Derrick Jones Jr. logged 25 minutes at the top of it after being out of the rotation until that point. Miami played 43 possessions of zone in that game — more than they had played combined all season prior.

Read More…