A frustrated Kyrie, a Marcus Morris-Jaylen Brown tiff, and one sour night in Miami
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MIAMI — Boston came to Miami riding a four-game winning streak in which its soaring offense had looked elite. But by the end of Thursday night, after their 115-99 loss to the Heat, a frustrated Kyrie Irving was taking shots in a practice gym by himself, and video emerged of Marcus Morris shoving Jaylen Brown during a second-quarter confrontation.
The Celtics, who have been unable to live up to the great expectations that followed them into this season, understand as well as anyone how fickle success can be. And it appears that one sour night has once again left them scrambling a bit.
About 20 minutes after the game, Irving left the locker room still wearing his sneakers, game shorts and an undershirt, and he dribbled a basketball down a hallway in the bowels of the arena. He stopped to take a picture with a young fan, then kept going, eventually disappearing through a pair of double doors. Several team staffers said they were unsure where Irving had gone.
About a half-hour later, Irving came back into the locker room, and he was sweaty. He had gone to the Heat’s practice court to work on his shot.
“Just imitating things that the defense was doing to me tonight and the pressure they were putting on me, and the opportunities I didn’t take advantage of,” Irving said. “I just want to feel good about it. It’s just good to get some shots up, just release some stress a little bit.”
Around the time Irving was finishing up his interview, a video posted by a fan on Instagram emerged showing Morris shoving Brown during a timeout with 7 minutes, 12 seconds left in the second quarter.
A minute earlier in the game, Brown had missed two layups and then jogged back on defense as the Heat scored an easy basket inside without Brown there to stop them. Morris clapped his hands at Brown in frustration, and this appeared to be the boiling point.
The players had left the locker room long before the video spread, and the team is probably glad there will be a cooling off period before the two address the tiff, most likely at their morning shootaround on Saturday.
On Thursday, the Celtics simply did not seem as connected as they had recently. They trailed by as many as 26 points in the second half and made one substantial run, but it fizzled before it could become more than an inconvenience for the Heat.
Boston had reached the 30-assist mark in five consecutive games, its longest streak since the 1986-87 team did it in six games in a row. But the crisp, urgent passing that defined their winning streak was not present Thursday, when they had 20 assists.
The Celtics appeared sluggish at times, perhaps in part because they played in Boston on Wednesday night and then boarded a plane for the three-hour trip here while the Heat rested and waited. But that is the nature of the NBA.
“We were not getting into the paint and we kept shooting tough, long, contested shots without much real attack until the middle of the third quarter,” coach Brad Stevens said.
That was around the time that the rookie Robert Williams entered the game for the first time and helped Boston mount a 16-0 run that quickly sliced the 26-point deficit to just 10. It looked like Boston was on the verge of crafting yet another unlikely comeback.
But Dwyane Wade would not let that happen.
Earlier in the game, an arena announcer had posed a loud question to the fans here.
“Who wants to send Dwyane Wade to the All-Star game?” he asked. “Somebody scream!”
And there were a lot of screams. Wade is in the midst of his 16th and final NBA season, and he is not a deserving All-Star based on his play this year, but the Heat are trying to get him to the game as a kind of career achievement award.
In this case, though, he offered a reminder that he is not done just yet, pouring in 9 points during a three-minute stretch and helping his team regain control after its lead had been frittered from 26 to 8. Wade finished with a team-high 19 points on 8 of 12 shooting.
“Just a calming factor as I have always talked about,” Wade said. “That’s what I’m here for.”
Irving said that before the game the Celtics talked about how physical the Heat would play against them, and then they saw it in real time, from the 51-37 rebounding edge Miami held to the thunderous first-half dunk James Johnson threw in Irving’s face.
Irving had a game-high 22 points, but he was just 2 for 8 in the second half after going 8 for 11 in the first. And that downturn, combined with the loss, motivated him to head back to the gym late in the night to get rid of the sour taste.
Irving has been widely lauded for his role as a leader this season, and in addition to simply wanting to get his rhythm back, this instance may also have sent a message to his teammates about what it will take to flip this season into the one many were expecting.