The Miami Heat continue to look like a sleeper in the Eastern Conference, holding off the Celtics on Tuesday for a 112-106 victory. With the win, the Heat pulled within 1.5 games of the Celtics (two in the loss column) for the No. 3 seed in the East.
Making Miami's victory even more impressive was the fact that Jimmy Butler didn't play. Miami, which never trailed in the game, moves to 2-1 in the bubble while the Celtics fall to 1-2.
Here are three takeaways from Miami's victory.
1. No. 3 seed in sight
In this bubble, the incentive to improve your seed is significantly lower because the home-court advantage that normally comes with the higher seed isn't a factor. But matchup manipulation is a thing. Some teams match up better with certain other teams.
As it stands, the Heat are the No. 4 seed in the East, but as stated above they have moved within a game and a half of the Celtics. If they stay at No. 4, they would currently match up with Indiana in the first round. If they were to rise to No. 3, they would get Philly as it stands. Perhaps there's not much difference in those options, but moving up to No. 3 would put Miami on the opposite side of the bracket from Milwaukee, meaning they could avoid the Bucks until the conference finals. That said, No. 2 Toronto is starting to feel like an equally difficult matchup.
2. Balanced Heat
Without Butler, Bam Adebayo, on paper, becomes Miami's best player. But he's not going to score 35. The Heat are a sum-of-their-parts team, and true to form they had five guys score in double figures on Tuesday. Adebayo was terrific with 21 points and 12 boards, his 40h double-double of the season, and Duncan Robinson matched Adebayo with 21 points of his own on five 3-pointers. Goran Dragic chipped in 20 off the bench.
You just don't know where the Heat are going to hit you from. They can all handle the ball. They can all pass and shoot. Their drive-and-kick system fits their personnel perfectly, and they are starting to look like a legit sleeper in the East.
3. Boston needs more Kemba
Yes, Walker is working his way back into condition and his minutes are being watched closely. He may not be fully healthy (knee). But lost in all the talk of Jayson Tatum ascending to the Celtics' No. 1 option is the fact that Walker has established himself as a world-class scorer and is starting to somehow feel like just another cog in an egalitarian Boston attack.
I get that Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward all need the ball and that the Celtics are have a lot of interchangeable pick-and-roll initiators, but Walker has Damian Lillard/Steph Curry type explosions in him. He averaged over 25 points a game last year. He's at 21 a game this year. He had 15 on Tuesday, some of them down the stretch when the game felt pretty decided even though it ended up close, but it's more than just the point total or the nine shots he attempted.
Walker just isn't a focal point right now. He's starting a lot of sets in the corner and never making it to the ball up top, where he became an All-Star. It might not mean anything, but the Celtics are using these games to get into playoff rhythm, and however you slice it, Walker was not in rhythm on Tuesday. He did look good in Boston's win over Portland on Sunday, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 22 minutes, but it still doesn't feel like Walker is ready to be his old self at the flip of a switch.