Entering Wednesday night, the top five teams in the Eastern Conference had combined for an almost unfathomable 43-2 record on their home courts. And the Heat were responsible for the only two blemishes.
In October they grabbed an overtime win in Milwaukee over the mighty Bucks, and then on Tuesday night they took an overtime victory against the Raptors in Toronto.
So the Celtics had reason to be wary when Miami arrived at TD Garden, but they also had some reason to be thankful. They had rested comfortably at home while the Heat had their long rock fight in Toronto, and by the time the Miami players cleared customs, flew to Boston and got to their hotel, it was nearly 3 a.m.
The Heat had a strong initial jolt Wednesday, but then lost their way during the Celtics’ powerful second quarter that propelled Boston to an emphatic 112-93 win.
The Celtics are now 8-0 at home this season, and they would not let Miami stain another perfect home record.
“When we get opportunities to play the top teams in our conference, we take on those challenges,” point guard Kemba Walker said. “Tonight was a great win.”
The Celtics trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half before they unspooled a 26-7 run. They forced seven second-quarter turnovers and took advantage of getting into the free-throw penalty, holding a 14-0 edge in attempted foul shots in the period.
Coach Brad Stevens was asked after the game what separated that stretch from the one that preceded it, and he mostly shrugged and said his team had played hard. But he said the defense in that span was notable.
“We had two of our better quarters of the year,” he said.
Semi Ojeleye, who has seized a more important role recently, was on the court for all 24 minutes of that segment. He finished with a modest 5 points and 7 rebounds, but impacted the game in several areas, and the Celtics outscored the Heat by 21 points during his time on the floor.
“He’s in the right spot; he’s where he’s supposed to be,” Stevens said. “He plays with good physicality and he got a number of deflections in the paint just by being in the right position. He was really good. I don’t think it was a coincidence that those 24 minutes were our best 24 minutes defensively tonight.”
On offense, the Celtics’ contributions were somewhat more predictable. Jaylen Brown had a season-high 31 points, Walker scored 28, and Jayson Tatum added 19, although he made just 2 of 12 3-pointers.
Brown is in the midst of one of the finest offensive stretches of his career. He has scored 22 points or more in five of the last six games, and he has drilled 9 of 19 3-pointers over the last two.
After one of them on Wednesday, in the fourth quarter, he blew a kiss toward Miami’s bench. Brown later smiled and said it was intended for former teammate Kelly Olynyk, but later acknowledged that he takes it to heart when opponents do not treat him as a shooter.
The Knicks and the Heat blitzed Walker and Tatum — Boston’s two most dangerous offensive players — during much of the last two games. Brown said Wednesday he has been a beneficiary of that approach, which can put the onus on players like him.
“Hopefully they continue to blitz and I continue to make plays,” Brown said. “But if they stop, it’ll open up guys like Kemba and [Tatum] on some of those screens.”
In addition to the continued absence of forward Gordon Hayward, who remains sidelined after undergoing hand surgery, the Celtics were without Marcus Smart (illness) on Wednesday night. But they have found ways all season to thrive while undermanned, and this time was no different.
Smart is not expected to be out for long, and Hayward has progressed to taking some light contact in practices, so the Celtics are hoping they can soon relaunch the full lineup that started their 10-game winning streak earlier this year.
“[Smart] is our defensive thinker and when you don’t have him, you have to try your best to make up as much as possible,” Walker said, “because he is a huge part of what we do. You just have to be that much more locked in and that much more on point to try to make up for the things he does.”
The Heat led, 35-24, just over three minutes into the second quarter, but they committed five turnovers over the next six minutes, and the Celtics clawed back by going 10 for 12 from the foul line over that span.
The start of the third quarter was no better for Miami. Its first eight possessions included three turnovers and three shots that were blocked. The Heat briefly sliced a 16-point deficit to 71-66 before Boston closed the quarter with an 11-3 flurry.